Graham Hurdle's blog: 13 January 2012 - Health and safety culture - where's it all going?
13 January 2012
Graham Hurdle is managing director of E-Training World
A friend of mine was telling me that his son's football match was called off due to, what was deemed by the referee, a 'frozen pitch'. He joked that at the time when the pitch was classed too lethal to play on, both teams were already on it warming up and having a kick about.
His tone was incredulous that although everyone seemed happy to play, those in 'authority' said no! It led us to discuss the days when schools are closed due to snow, when many people find it hard to understand what the problem is.
"Of course it's more about the fear of being sued by someone getting inured than it is about safety," he said. A point I'm sure many of us would agree with.
But it did make me wonder where UK Health and safety culture will end up in the years to come. After all, if a referee allows a football match to go ahead and someone gets injured, what's to stop an at-work driver suing their employer for a personal injury if their company allows them to drive in bad weather and they crash?
And what actually is the definition of bad weather? Does it need to be snowing, and if so how seriously? Does it need to be icy - and if so, does that mean many early morning starts throughout the winter could be deemed as being dangerous. And is heavy wind and rain seen as treacherous? Certainly the 85mph wind last week was dangerous, but at what point does wind move from safe to unsafe?
Perhaps the key difference here is ownership of territory or land. In my two examples of the school and the football pitch, someone is responsible for those areas and the safety of the people using them.
That's not the case with a company allowing staff to drive on the public highways. But we've seen the law drift and stretch in the past - even when it seems completely ludicrous; a good example being McDonalds having to warn people that their tea or coffee might contain hot liquids.
In the last few months, E-Training World has been growing its business Internationally - one target market being the States. But when we discuss a risk management solution in the USA we're finding that our lawyers are scrutinising the contracts far more closely - simply based upon the litigation culture over there.
Their warning is that US health and safety culture has become so extreme that people will attempt to sue for anything - and that includes a risk management provider potentially coming under attack if a driver is found to be low risk, but then has an accident.
So where could that take us? It seems incredible to think that a company offering risk solutions to help improve driver safety and cut down on accidents could actually find itself with a lawsuit from a driver who has had an accident post training.
But I fear common sense doesn't always come into play with these things - just like the kids happily playing football on a pitch deemed too dangerous to use.