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Re-Examine health and safety hypocrisy

24 November 2009

The chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has called for a re-examination of the national hypocrisy on health and safety which sees issues like swine flu taken seriously while other topics are viewed with a derision that is hampering efforts to save lives.

Tom Mullarkey
Tom Mullarkey

In his report to RoSPA's annual meeting, Tom Mullarkey said that work to reduce the number of people killed in accidents - a figure which is rising - is being set back by an obsession with minor health and safety exasperations which diverts attention from accident prevention.

Mullarkey said: "I have yet to meet anyone whose health and safety, or that of their loved ones, is not their most important priority. But if you live in the UK today, you might be forgiven for thinking that health and safety is the Enemy of the State. Asking the man in the street, as we frequently do, reveals that many people describe health and safety as having 'gone too far' and believe that it represents unwelcome control from the 'nanny state'."

The question begs, he said, as to how our most important priority has become so devalued.
Mullarkey said: "We seem to have developed a national hypocrisy on health and safety which needs to be re-examined. People are not surprised to see earthquakes, helicopter crashes or swine flu make the headlines but would only rarely, if they paused for thought, describe these events as health and safety issues. The use of NHS resources, how well we prepare our children for adulthood through the education system or the proliferation of alcohol abuse are all subjects which raise serious, intense debate but the links are rarely made with the underlying subject, which is only described in derisive terms.

"We are compassionate and understanding when a child is drowned or a young student mown down by a drunken motorist. Yet we do not blink when, almost in the same breath, without any sense of irony, the guns are turned on health and safety for some minor exasperation."

The number of deaths registered as accidental in the UK has risen in recent years. In 2007, there were 13,700 accidental deaths. Accidents remain the principal cause of death up to the age of 35.

Mullarkey said: "Despite the public perception that there is too much unnecessary intervention, the reality is that 'accidental' deaths have increased ... and the two may indeed be linked.

"Many of these are untimely, violent deaths that destroy families. Accidents blight our society and our communities, taking away the most vulnerable, and they cost us all in monetary terms, very dearly. Where then, are the headlines that the scale of such tragedy and impact merits?

People need to understand the big picture if they are to balance the huge value of health and safety against the minor irritants. It is time for the media, at all levels, to stop tilting at the windmills and get down to the serious business of supporting accident prevention."

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