Lazy BBC hacks repeat Mail ‘elf n safety’ myths


1:29 pm - October 4th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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The bloggers at Angry Mob quite rightly take apart this ludicrous BBC article which repeats several ‘elf n safety’ myths that have been peddled over the past few years by tabloid newspapers.

The article refers to Conservative party claims they want to reduce the “health and safety burden” on society generally.

The BBC not only breathlessly reports on the claims but also helpfully repeats some of the myths peddled in the media and by Cameron.

1. BBC article:

It follows a number of well-publicised cases – such as the cancellation of a 200-year-old cheese-rolling event in Gloucestershire, due to safety concerns.

Except that the event was cancelled, not axed (as reported by the Mail) by organisers because there were far too many people there. The attendance at the event had “far outgrown” the location and they were going to change location.

2. The BBC picture caption states: ‘David Cameron said children had been told to wear goggles while playing the game of conkers’

This was actually debunked by the Health and Safety Executive as far back as 2007, and was never an actual recommendation.

3. The BBC reports Cameron as saying: “…restaurants being banned from handing out toothpicks…”

Again, debunked and dismissed by the HSE. But you wouldn’t know that if you were reading the BBC site – their job is to simply repeat Mr Cameron not challenge it or pretend to be investigative journalists. Why would anyone want to spend any time investigating claims made by the PM?

The HSE state:

We’ve said it all before, but there are still too many reports that HSE and health and safety law are responsible for all sorts of bans – cheese-rolling events, knitting in hospitals and even toothpicks! In reality HSE has banned very little outright, apart from a few high-risk exceptions like asbestos, which kills around 4000 people a year.

Too often health and safety is used as a convenient excuse, but it’s time to challenge this and remind people to focus on the real risks – those that are still causing people to be killed, injured or made ill at work. Challenge the myths, tackle real risks!

But challenging the myths would require some real journalism!

The BBC later use the issue for a Have Your Say discussion, adding: “However, unions say the Tories are distorting facts about health and safety legislation for political ends.” Great job, guys.

You can complain from here, and let us know if you get anything back.
[Hat-tip Angry Mob]

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Coming from near Coopers Hill I know that various authorities have tried to curtail the event over the years. There is a steady stream of casualties for every event, which isn’t surprising (http://www.break.com/index/coopers-hill-cheese-rolling.html) . The hill is more like a cliff, the whole thing is bonkers, which is why we love it.

Long may it continue!

This post is almost as bad as the myths because it’s not spotting the nuance between the two points, that whilst “health and safety” itself has not made rules or laws on specific incident, the concept has been misused as a justification for such things and that is precisely because of the burden the regulation places on many so that they take risk assessment to the extreme when they really shouldn’t.

Were conkers banned because of “elf and safety” laws? No. Were conkers banned because there were misplaced and misunderstood health and safety concerns and someone erred on the side of caution at the expense of common sense? Yes.

3. Complainathon

I don’t get it. Are you saying these things didn’t happen? Or that they did? If they did happen on health and safety grounds, but it’s not the government’s fault, I’m not sure that actually makes the situation any better.

What the BBC/Cameron were talking about was the health and safety culture that has replaced common sense in many places in the UK. Are you saying THAT doesn’t exist?

Last winter I can definitively say that children in many schools in Britain were forbidden to play in the snow because it was ‘dangerous’, and were instead locked inside during class breaks.

Frankly, it’s hard to say that a bizarre culture of extreme risk aversion has not arisen in local government. And that is driven by something. If it wasn’t driven by the Health and Safety Executive, as you claim, then what do you think is behind this extraordinary trend of local governmental fear?

conkers banned? where? a bit like banning english flags stories. looks like the daily mail propaganda is working.people believe anything.
on the few occasions things do get banned its because local authorities and corporations know they will be sued for millions by the same people who originally said they didn’t want health and safety.

Having worked with Health and Safety Executive guidelines, I think it is safe to say that they are not actually responsible for the health and safety culture – they stress personal responsibility and taking all reasonable measures, with reasonable meaning exactly that.

I think however that a culture of blame, of repeated examples of people taking action to reduce risk and above all of assuming that it is a government responsibility to ensure safety (anyone remember government passing a bill ensuring safety, rather than ensuring you’d be patched up after the accident?) means that people do not engage with what the Health and Safety Executive write, but what they feel they write.

re complainathon see my post above. many of the paper stories are distorted. does that surprise you? do you believe everything you read in the papers?
i GUARANTEE you if one of those children had fallen and gotten hurt their parents would have rubbed their hands together with glee and, with the free help of a no-win no -fee lawyer , sued the local authority for millions.

e it’s not spotting the nuance between the two points

Can you see any of that nuance in the BBC article? Because you must be good at reading between the lines. The blog post above does a better job of pointing out what actually happened doesn’t it?

If you want to moan Dizzy – take it up with the BBC for not having the ‘nuance’ you desire.

Sunny, I don’t disagree about the BBC, but no, I don’t think your post does because your post just takes the line of “it’s all myths” ergo it;s all bollocks, when the truth is halfway between the two.

Basically, we have a state of affairs that is the unintended consequence of something that began as a piece of legislation in a time of heavy industry etc and now has people producing documents outlining risk assessments, often unnecessarily, on the type of chair to purchase for employees etc.

The fact is, even if there are no rules, laws that, for example, ban conkers in schools, the people that do the banning cite the infamous concern of “health and safety” as their reasoning for doing it. Until the scope and reach that health and safety regs have are officially railed back, or at least better defined these types of stories will carry on.

Basically, we have a state of affairs that is the unintended consequence of something that

So let me get this straight. You think that people cancelling an event to look for a bigger venue because three times as many visitors as expected came the year before is a result of our ‘excessive health and safety culture’.

Funny, I would have put it down to common sense.

and now has people producing documents outlining risk assessments

Can you show me one on children playing with conkers, or anything approaching a ban on playing with conkers simply because of H&F?

Basically the examples cited by Cameron and the BBC are myths. Everyone has said so. Your point is that the general principle applies (it may do, in some isolated cases, I can’t speak for everyone) but the point here is about how the BBC is regurgitating the myths spouted by Cameron.

Feel free to point out where the blog post above or on Angry Mob is factually incorrect and I’ll amend it. cheers

The HSE banned asbestos?! What about hard-working families and taxpayers who grow/build/harvest* the British asbestos so we don’t have to rely on shoddy “Made in the EU” imported asbestos, eh? What a flippin disgrace. It’s political correctness gone mad.

[*I don’t actually know where asbestos comes from]

11. Cheesehoven

You call the BBC article ‘ludicrous’ but the examples you give prove to be accurate by the very links you provide.

1.”the cancellation of a 200-year-old cheese-rolling event in Gloucestershire, due to safety concerns.”
The event WAS cancelled due to safety concerns.
2.‘David Cameron said children had been told to wear goggles while playing the game of conkers’
Children HAD been told to wear goggles.
3. You do not show proof of the ‘debunking’ you claim, but if your other examples are anything to go by,it would be poor.

And these are the best examples you can find!

The main point of the article (and the Tory drive) is to try to change the culture of (and paranoia over) health and safety. It is not merely about the HSE, although that is a start.

You do not seem to understand this point.

@11

Re: goggles for conkers.

The beginning (2004): http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cumbria/3712764.stm A news story about a headteacher who suggested wearing of goggles when playing conkers.
Debunked (1) (2007): http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/september.htm The HSE says there is no requirement whatsoever to wear goggles when playing conkers.
Debunked (2) (2009): http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/09/conkers-goggles-myth-health-safety The headteacher who first mentioned the goggles idea explains it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and also criticises Cameron for jumping aboard a tabloid tale that got out of hand.

~

All of this information is available via a simple google search of “conkers goggles” (no quote marks). As always with ‘elf’n’safety stories there is more than meets the tabloid eye – Cameron is a master of bullshit (ex-PR man, after all) and it is incredibly cynical of him to use tabloid tales to back up policy – and ludicrous for the Beeb to unquestioningly follow suit.

13. Chaise Guevara

@Dizzy

“Until the scope and reach that health and safety regs have are officially railed back, or at least better defined these types of stories will carry on.”

Health and safety regulations have absolutely nothing to do with it. There are no regulations regarding the equipment need to play conkers or the requisite size of a field in which cheese may be rolled. In fact, your post seemed to indicate that you were aware of this, so why are you using the completely different issue of private litigiousness to attack health and safety regulations?

Wantonly exposing workers and the public to risks such as asbestos will not stop these stories being told. Punishing newspapers that lie might help, though.

14. Chaise Guevara

“The main point of the article (and the Tory drive) is to try to change the culture of (and paranoia over) health and safety. It is not merely about the HSE, although that is a start.”

True as far as the article goes, but what’s the HSE got to do with it? And what exactly would you change about that organization?

Cheesehoven – I’m sorry but your point is idiotic.

There is no goddamn legislation or body that is pushing these excessive measures. In some cases local groups take matters into their own hands because of their own priorities.

If the people hadn’t cancelled the cheese rolling contest then they’d be criticised for not adequately taking into account visitor demand and making life worse for everyone. So they made a sensible (and commercially beneficial) decision.

What the hell would the Tories do to stop this? Ban people from cancelling such events? Stop teachers from doing anything from taking matters into their own hands?

Ludicrous.

Something that I know isn’t a myth — because it happened to me personally — is that some employers don’t keep paracetamol and other painkillers in first aid kits, because people might be allergic to it.

Ironically, this happened when I was working at a hospital, which no doubt used drugs far more dangerous than paracetamol.

17. Chaise Guevara

“What the hell would the Tories do to stop this?”

Well, they COULD crack down on the legal framework that allows people to sue over their own mistakes, although that wouldn’t be easy. Sadly, I think it would be hard to create an official Being Bloody Stupid clause that companies could invoke to defend themselves against frivolous lawsuits.

Unfortunately, this is probably cover. Waffle ambigiously about “health and safety gone mad” so your support’s at maximum when you severely cut the HSE’s budget.

“What the hell would the Tories do to stop this?”

Crack down on the liars in the right-wing press?

Last winter people were afraid to clear snow from paths and pavements because they had been told by the tory press they would be liable in the event of an accident. This was a complete lie, never admitted or apologised for, and it caused misery. It is just one example of many and it has led to the nonsense described above.

20. Just Visiting

My kids primary school banned kids doing cartwheels on the school playing field.
Unless they took their shoes off.

And whilst they should have been promoting a healthy child approach, their policy to cycling to school was: you can’t do it unless you’re Year 6, and done the cycling proficiency.

When as parent governor responsible for the website I found that policy up there – and mentioned to the next governors’ meeting that my sons had been cycling to school alone since year 3…and that wouldn’t it be better to encourage parents to encourage their kids to cycle, by changing the website words to something like ‘we encourage all children to walk oro cycle to school, and leave it to parents to decide when their child is ready to do so, and what the best safe routes would’

That idea was shot down, and the school policy on cycling is unchanged.

That is the effect of the ‘fear’ that the H&S culture has become -even among educated school staff! They just did not even want to consider anything that could be trouble, so took the safe route of banning stuff.

It isn’t a “Health and Safety” culture that is the culprit here, it is the genuine and well-placed fear of some “no win, no fee” lawyer hanging a local authority out to dry for more money than they can possibly afford any time little Timmy gets a bruise in school. Their insurance premiums are expensive enough, without allowing the public license to injure themselves in any recreation the council foolishly decide to organise.

That’s what the problem is; It’s the lawyers wot dun it and there is no point changing H&S guidelines without change the laws on local authority culpability.

Cherub (@18): Exactly.

However, the chances of a crackdown are nil.

Much like people who want to cut benefits hunt down and endlessly trumpet isolated examples of Afghans with 10 kids claiming ludicrous amounts, people who want to make running a construction site cheaper hunt down (and exaggerate) tales of ludicrous rules being applied to cheese rolling contests…

a friendly place to find the support you need to meet your goals.

No Win No Fee Solicitors


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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