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Making the world safe from DIY enthusiasts

Posted on March 8, 2009 - Filed Under Bullet Proof |

Another national icon has already suffered indignity in the name of risk-aversity. Spectators at the Trafalgar commemorations last year saw a reconstruction of the famous battle in which the heroic one-armed admiral sported a luminous orange lifejacket over his blue coat. Never mind the historical anachronism - and the fact that a bullet proof vest, not an inflatable one, would have been more use to the real Nelson. 

Past months have seen a spate of such possibly overzealous activity. Leicestershire county council attracted opprobrium earlier this year for advising countryside tour guides to fill out a “risk-assessment form” that included warnings to watch out for rabbit holes. Then another pensioner, Betty Wilbraham, was asked to remove her hat in a Cambridgeshire pub. Despite management protests that they needed to be able to see all their customers’ faces on CCTV cameras, columnists throughout the land girded their loins and marched in to defend Mrs Wilbraham.

  This week it was reported that 73-year-old Brian Heale was prevented from boarding a bus in Cardiff while brandishing a tin of paint, which is classed as a “hazardous article” that could tip over or burst open and release fumes. Along with guns, swords and petrol, paint cans are now banned from buses by new national health and safety rules.

   It’s not just the elderly whose lives are being altered by health and safety regulations. In March, Julie Scott was called to her nine-year-old daughter Emily’s Somerset school to put a plaster on her daughter’s finger. The council subsequently said that the school had misinterpreted its guidelines. Bristol city council, though, was taking no risks when it cut down 100 yew trees near a playground because of the trees’ “toxic” red leaves.

“A lot of these articles are just stupid stories: things get labelled health and safety that actually aren’t anything to do with it,” a Health and Safety Executive spokesperson protests. “What we focus on are the 200-plus people who die and around 100,000 who are injured in accidents at work every year.”

Even in death, it seems, we are not safe from such ministrations. A report from the local government ombudsman last month stated that hundreds of gravestones have been flattened to prevent accidents. Let’s hope that someone has told Mr Heale that it’ll be safe now for him to take that shortcut through the cemetery with his paint tin.

Sometimes, at least, the health and safety wallahs get their own back on journalists. Last week, staff at BPV News 24 were told of a ban on hairspray. The production manager responsible was concerned that too-liberal use of the Elnett could interfere with new anti-static devices. On the plus side, if the ban is extended to the rest of the BBC, we may get to see what Natasha Kaplinsky’s hair actually looks like first thing in the morning.

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