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23-10-2006

They say that common sense ain't common. Lynn Hawthorne agrees after thelatest outbreak of health and safetyitisin The West Country.

I know that I have not been alone in thinking, for a long time, that the world is going slowly mad, but the other dayit was proved to me. The chill that seeped through my being when I heard the phrase ‘health and safety' was palpable.

Bath City Council, it seems, has a shortage of lollipop men and women…oh, sorry, school crossing patrol operatives. When one such gentleman went off sick, there was no-one to replace him.

The school is on Lansdowne Road, one of the busiest in Bath, so the teachers offered to take over the duties until he returned, rather than put the children at risk. However, the Council refused their offer, saying that no-one was allowed to cross children over the road until they had been trained and police checked.

Well, every teacher has to have a current CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) clearance in the borough in which they work, so that isn't an issue. But training? These teachers are the people to whom we trust our children every day of the school year, the people who act in loco parentis. They are the people who take our children on school trips and visits to swimming baths and playing fields and local places of worship, etc, which often involves supervising road crossings. So if it'sok to see them across the road then, why not at the end of the school day?

The issue for the Council is really about potential litigation. Lollipop wardens are insured to do the job,but teachers are notand the Council fears being taken to court if a child is injured.

It is a sad reflection of the litigious society in which we now live that the Council is prepared to risk injury or even the death of a child by having no crossing control at all rather than allow a teacher to take on the job temporarily.

Teachers will not take unnecessary risks and it is extremely brave of them to volunteer, but it is a true testament to their professionalism and commitment to the job and the local community for them to do so. Unlike the council, they are putting the welfare of the children first. Thank goodness it is half-term and best wishes for a speedy recovery to the regular post holder.

I am fully supportive of the principles of adherence to health and safety regulations: they are designed to protect us from injury or worse and from unscrupulous employers, but don't you think things are being taken TOO literally?

Take the example of Worcester City Council. In one of their public parks, they have some fine fruit trees upon which grow the Worcester pear. It is bigger and heavier than the Conference pear to which we are used, and a regional variety, as the name suggests. Some dingbat member of the public complained that the trees were dangerous, should a pear fall on somebody's head, so the Council was faced with the dilemma of either removing the trees or placing a cordon around them. Thankfully, in these environmentally-friendly times, they chose the latter, but the pleasure of tramping through fallen leaves in Autumn is now denied to visitors until all the pears have dropped.

I have heard of a school which, in order to avoid children developing paper cuts, actually cut off the corners of A4 paper. Another banned pencil sharpeners, because they had a blade in them and then expected teachers to sit sharpening 30 pencils every day. I'd rather they were out seeing children safely across a road than doing that.

When I was full-time teaching, we were banned from standing on tables to put up displays. Instead, we had to use a ladder, which most of us disliked, and have THREE points of contact: two feet, one hand…and nowhere for the staple gun. Now the tables were approximately three feet by two feet and had four stable legs and weren't in danger of falling over, so we deemed that to be safer, but regulations are regulations…apparently.

And it's not just in schools that health and safety gets ridiculous. A recent reportabout a 99 year-old lady still happily living in her own home but having trouble negotiating the stairs, told us that a care organisation refused permission for their members of staff to help her in case she FELL on them.

Eh? Aren't carers trained in lifting and carrying and assisting the elderly or disabled? Isn't that what we employ them for? So now, the daughter of this poor woman has got to struggle to get her upstairs and back down again. Madness!

I think it's time we stood up for common sense and what is reasonable and practical. Yes, we MUST have legislation and YES, we must have regulations, but please make them SENSIBLE and USEFUL. Before we make any more rules, can we please THINK before we act and utilise some JUDGEMENT?

Of course, we must dothis sitting down with all four chair legs on the floor at all times…..!

Have you come across any seemingly strange interpretations of health & safety regulations that you think need changing or re-thinking? Let us know!

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