The myth

We know it has, we have heard it down the pub, on the bus, in the shops. "'ealth and safety has gone mad mate". Can't have a conker fight in school, can't put up hanging baskets in the park, can't blow your nose without some officious idiot with a clipboard putting a stop to it because it is in breach of health and safety regulations. No risk assessment – no fun.

Leaving aside the fact that many newspaper reports of health and safety overkill are simply untrue and a recycling of popular myths, it might just be worth taking a moment to look at the Health & Safety Executive Annual Statistics, published in July each year.

Deaths at work

Did you know that last year 144 people were killed during the course of their work? Quite a lot of families with no husband, no father, no main breadwinner (and before you raise an accusation of sexism, 96% of all fatalities at work were male).

Most deaths occurred in construction (38) and agriculture (29), although the risk of death is particularly high in the waste disposal industry, with 10 deaths per 100,000 workers, slightly ahead of agriculture with 8 deaths per 100,000. Although construction has the most deaths overall, the rate is much lower, the risk of dying at work being less than a quarter of that in waste disposal and agriculture.

The figures are shocking and yet it takes only a few moments to discover how far we have come in recent years – and why.

Health & safety at work – saving lives

In the post war years not all deaths at work were recorded but in 1947 alone, 618 died in mining accidents and 839 in factories. The slow increase in health and safety legislation since the Second World War saw a decline in fatalities over many years but even as late as 1974 there were around 700 recorded deaths in the workplace. It is no coincidence that since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and subsequent legislation and regulation passed by governments of all political persuasions, deaths at work have fallen by 85%. The figure has settled at an average of 141 per annum over the last 5 years or so – roughly 550 people still alive each year just because some jobsworth with a clip board came round to carry out a risk assessment, or check the regulations were being followed or to ensure that the equipment being used was not faulty.

So let 'ealth & safety go mad – it keeps thousands of people healthy, safe and alive every year!

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