Sunday, 28 January 2007

Firemen banned from climbing ladders?

Strange story in press last week about firemen being banned from installing smoke detectors in people's homes as it involves climbing stepladders.

Shock, horror, health & safety gone mad, Daily Mail up in arms, etc. etc. Except there is nothing at all in the Working at Height Regulations that would prevent a fireman climbing a stepladder to install a smoke alarm.

Yet Sean Starbuck, regional chairman of the FBU, is quoted saying:

"The use of stepladders to fit smoke alarms contravenes working-at-height regulations".

This is utter tripe. Was he misquoted? Or has he simply never bothered to find out what the Working at Height Regs actually say?

It wouldn't have taken him, or any of the journalists reporting this story, long to check. The Working at Height Regs have a short section all about ladders, and basically say they are fine as long as they are the most appropriate device for the task (e.g. if risk of fall is low; and task duration is very short). Fitting a smoke detector is certainly a short duration task; and a fireman, who climbs ladders for a living, is probably pretty good at not falling off them.

This sort of thing really gets my goat - and continues to portray the HSE as meddling fools trying to eliminate every possible risk from day-to-day activities, which on the whole they probably aren't. Why do they not rebut this sort of nonsense? Surely they must read the same story? Do they just sit in their offices fuming about how they have been misrepresented again?

OK, I did just find this buried on the HSE's website:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/press/record/var180107.htm

So they did try and rebut it, but clearly without effect. I just Googled a couple of sentences from that rebuttal, and it appears nowhere other than HSE's own site, so I guess no paper bothered to print it. And if they did, would just be on the letters page, not in the news where the original misleading story appeared.

The HSE makes their job so much harder by not effectively challenging this sort of stuff. It's like the "Cry wolf" fable: if you think the HSE is constantly wittering about trivial risks, you won't believe them when they warn you about something that genuinely is dangerous.

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