Coalition plea over health and safety

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CASH-strapped Scottish Borders Council faces unquantified but “substantial” costs in implementing measures to comply with updated health and safety legislation.

And members united last week in agreeing to lobby the coalition government at Westminster to “reduce the over-zealous imposition” of guidelines, some of which they claimed were both costly and unnecessary.

But there was, stated a report by head of audit and risk Jill Stacey, a responsibility on SBC to meet its statutory responsibilities and “take the necessary steps to conduct its activities and business in a manner that minimises the health, safety and wellbeing risk to which its employees and those affected by such activities are exposed”.

In light of this, the council was asked to adopt a series of new and detailed strategies and policies covering “corporate wellbeing and safety management”.

“Compliance [with legislation] requires a systematic use of techniques to identify and remove hazards, the control of risk and the use of techniques to influence behaviour and promote safe attitutes,” stated Ms Stacey.

She said systems needed updated to reflect new roles, functions and organisational structures resulting from the council’s ongoing business transformation programme.

Members heard the cost of mitigating risks “could be substantial ... and will have to be taken into account when the council is reviewing its service delivery”.

The extent and potential cost of implementing the policies were ridiculed by Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre (Con) who told members: “Health and safety has spawned an entire industry and this country did not win two world wars during the last century by sitting around ticking off health and safety requirements.”

She reminded the meeting of the words of the author Arthur Ransome who believed children should grow up doing dangerous things and that the best way for them to learn how to handle risks was to let them face them.

In Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, published in 1931, the mother telegraphs the father to ask if the children can take their boat off for a holiday, and the father replies: “Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers won’t drown”.

Mrs Riddell-Carre noted that a list of the training the council was being asked to provide its workforce included a one-day course on ladder safety.

“My own tips on ladder safety are as follows: if it’s shoogly, pull it out a bit; if it’s still shoogly, get your husband to hold it; if it’s really, really shoogly, hold the ladder yourself and get your husband to go up it.” That did not go down well with Councillor David Paterson (Ind). “It comes as no surprise that the Tories should distance themselves from health and safety,” he said. “What happens if our staff are killed because of shoddy practice? It’s surely our duty to protect our workers.”

SNP councillor Kenneth Gunn believed there should be a place for common sense in work practices.

“It is strange that other EU countries ignore European Commission guidelines, yet they become law in the UK. This is an issue we must ask Westminster to address.

“We have enough people working in this department [the audit and risk management section of SBC’s resources department] already and we can’t afford to take this further.”

The council agreed to adopt the new procedures, but agreed, on the suggestion of Mrs Riddell-Carre to write to the Westminster government asking it to “rein back the excesses of health and safety”.

“This will save the public and private sector huge amounts of money,” she added.