‘Absolute safety’ is impossible and costs our freedoms says health and safety watchdog

Daily Mail
07.11.2008
By Olinka Koster

‘Absolute safety’ is impossible and should be scrapped, says head of Royal Society for the Prevention of ACCIDENTS

The chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest health and safety watchdogs has pleaded for a return to ‘basic common sense’.

Tom Mullarkey, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said people should be able to ‘get on with’ activities like walking or mowing their lawn themselves.

It has been revealed that Peter Miller, 88, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Second World War and was captured during the retreat to Dunkirk, has been banned from carrying the banner of remembrance tomorrow - despite his wishes - because he has become frail and there would be a ‘problem with insurance’.

The health and safety axe has even come down on collecting firewood.

Retired builder Mike Kamp was told earlier this year that he could no longer gather supplies in local woods for the stove at his cottage near Betwys-y-Coed, North Wales, because of the ‘increasing constraints’ of modern legislation.

Speaking at the charity’s annual general meeting, Mr Mullarkey said the quest for ‘absolute safety’ was impossible and should be abandoned - and that health and safety officials should stop intervening unnecessarily in public life.

Instead, he said information should be made available so people can decide for themselves whether to take part in a particular activity, by using their own judgement.

‘The application of common sense and balance is much more reasonable than the seeking of mindless increments towards ‘absolute safety’, a destination which is neither feasible nor, in all probability, desirable, since it would come at such cost to our freedoms,’ he said.

‘Accident prevention involves so many technical, legal and ethical issues, ultimately defining life and death, that there is no simple shorthand for explaining how the whole thing works for the benefit of the 60 million people who rely on it.

‘Whether walking in the hills or mowing the lawn, people need to be able to get on with it themselves, ideally armed with the tools of knowledge and experience.’

Mr Mullarkey said there are areas where strict health and safety rules are needed - for example, in the nuclear, chemical or aviation industries.

But in other areas of life, people should be provided with sufficient information to determine their own health and safety.

‘Someone who puts only themselves at risk should have the freedom to do so; but if an act can kill or injure others, it must be proscribed or regulated.

‘A solo mountain climber fits into the first category; a speeding motorist the second.’

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