We’ve all been there. That awkward moment down the pub or at a party when somebody asks what you do for a living. There’s a pause while you stall for time, a bead of sweat forming on your brow while you debate how to respond. In the end you swallow hard and decide to bite the bullet. ‘I work in… Health and safety.’ The imaginary record playing in the corner skips as the room draws its collective breath. And then the jokes begin…
Of course, as a seasoned occupational safety professional you know only too well the life saving work you’re involved in. Accidents ruin lives and destroy families and, with a tragic number of people still injured or killed at work, the need for safe and healthy working environments has perhaps never been greater. Yet time and time again you face the same prejudice, the same blinkered views – the same terrible jokes. In this post we take a look at some of the most common myths about health and safety, and offer some ideas for combating unhelpful stereotypes… as well as hopefully reminding the world that health and safety workers really are guardian angels!
Bunch of killjoys
It seems as long as there have been tabloid newspaper columnists, there have been accusations that the health and safety industry is somehow intent on sucking the fun out of the world – as if our sole purpose in life is to go around closing children’s play areas and banning firework displays. While it doesn’t make as exciting a news story, the truth is that OSH professionals don’t just tolerate fun activities – they actively encourage them! From skiing to kayaking, mountain climbing to motorbike riding, RoSPA’s approach is for people to be as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible! After all, staying active and enjoying life is one of the cornerstones of both physical and mental wellbeing…
What a waste of time
When we’re not busy stopping people doing things, we’re slowing them down with mountains of paperwork and petty bureaucracy, making it hard for businesses to operate. Once again, nothing could be further from the truth! Every year thousands of accidents occur through rushing and cutting corners and while it’s accurate that doing a job safely might take slightly longer, the amount of time – not to mention money – an accident can cost is simply staggering, especially once you take into account the wider implications, such as hospital visits, sick days and even site closures. In fact, according to the HSE, work-related illness and injury are responsible for an astonishing 27 million lost working days each year. Now if that isn’t a waste of time I don’t know what is!
Money, money, money
If it’s not time we’re wasting, it’s good ol’-fashioned greenbacks! The HSE estimate that accidents cost the UK economy an incredible £13.8 billion every year! As well as the cost of accidents themselves, another aspect worth considering is that accident prevention can be as simple (and as free) as speaking up when you spot a potential hazard. If you see something, say something as the old saying goes! Even when you do need to pay for specialist safety training, the outlay is significantly smaller than the cost of an accident, particularly if you qualify to conduct training in-house.
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?
Have you heard the one about the trapeze artist being ordered to wear a hard hat? Or how about the students ordered to wear goggles while they play conkers? Whichever way you look at it, ‘elf and safety is an easy target whenever reporters are facing a slow news day. Fortunately, the HSE are excellent at picking up and pointing out the H&S ‘bogeyman’ stories whenever they occur – just check out our free safety myths poster. You won’t believe your eyes!
It’ll never happen to me…
The problem with accidents is that people always think it will happen to someone else – and as a result they see health and safety as nothing but a nuisance. Youngsters in particular seem to be at risk from this ‘immortality complex’, with young drivers for example being far more likely to be involved in collisions on the road than their more experienced counterparts. Of course the tragic truth is that accidents can and do happen, and the results can be devastating. If you don’t believe us, just ask Mick Loughran, a foreman whose life was changed forever following a construction site accident.
Perhaps one of the most persistent accusations levelled at health and safety is that it’s dull – particularly safety training. Now, judging by these ‘vintage’ health and safety videos that certainly does seem to be the case. Fortunately however, training has come on leaps and bounds since then. For one thing, RoSPA’ s safety training focuses on the practical aspects of safety, so that people are able to start making a real difference the moment they return to work. Rather than just providing theory for theory’s sake, we aim to make real changes in real workplaces. After all – it might just save a life!