I lost my dog the other day in a London park. During the 25 minute period she was lost I asked three park wardens in different park vehicles if they could quickly drive me round the block so I could look for her. Each time their answer was a very firm, pre-briefed reply: "Oh no, can't do that... Health and Safety".
The basic gist being that if I happened to fall out of the vehicle they are not insured for it and I might then sue them. I replied, "I'm not looking for a law suit, I'm just looking to find my dog".
Such was their own worry about the safety of their job they would not entertain the idea of helping out a park visitor concerning their lost dog. People are justifiably terrified of losing their jobs by just slightly veering away from their employers iron clad regulations. Employers are so terrified about any potential 'attack' that might arise, they look to minimize the risk of it occurring. This is of course understandable but where is the line drawn between fear and reality? It is sad that terror of litigation or being found at fault is increasingly preventing any free thinking on the part of employers and employees, and this is fast diminishing the humanity between people. It is sad that I feel tarred by a stick of mistrust and potential danger whilst simply asking for some help in a public park. Life is increasingly built on a climate of mistrust instead of human connection and dare I say it... common sense? Society is becoming like visiting a posh shop where the assistants look at you as if you are a kleptomaniac. Soon people will be stopped from helping an older person across the road in case they do it wrong and get sued.
We also have to look past employers and at the restrictions insurance companies make on their clients as well as aggressive TV advertising by legal companies telling people that if they trip up on the street they can earn money. If I fall out of a buggy going at 5mph and I decide to sue the park where is the case? Chuck it out. If a person falls on the kerb at a garage and sues the garage owner, where is the case? Chuck it out!
I tried to have some furniture delivered recently but the delivery truck was too big to go down the track to my house. I offered to help carry it the last 100 yards. A firm no from the driver.... "health and safety", so I asked him what that meant? All he could reply was "health and safety". It is like this phrase has become an all encompassing term to cover any event that might arise that can cause a potential problem. It is the ultimate waiver. It means nothing yet somehow everything.
I look at the thousands of people working in the West End shows. When I worked on Cabaret we were all climbing up and down 20ft ladders on wheels with no safety mechanism. No one cried health and safety. It was our job and we did it. Union rights are not always perfect and we should always seek improvement where necessary to protect working people. But I enter a job or situation knowing the potential consequences and make a decision. I am an adult not a baby. Seeking improvement for workers rights is different from creating a padded bubble so big that there is no room for free thinking and movement. We have become so fixated on terms like 'health and safety' that it has stopped being used in a context of genuine protection. 'Health and safety' can now be used as a trump card to squash out any notion of initiative and personal responsibility. Use the term for its proper use and stop allowing it to be the damp fire blanket that eradicates any embers of human connection and behavior.
I think the best example of the madness came recently when I was driving into the centre of London from Hackney. It was a bright sunny morning, the kind that makes you happy to be alive. I saw a young couple sharing a bicycle ride to work. She was perched happily on the back. As I pondered on the innocence and romanticism of the image a policeman screamed at the couple. He forced them to stop and get off. I stopped and asked the man why they had to dismount.
"Health and safety," he said.
"I don't understand," I replied.
"Well," he carried on, "they could fall off and die".
"Surely that is their choice, no?" I responded. "I mean they are adults. I am an adult and I am driving a car and I could crash."
His reply: "No, its not their choice"...
....and there we have it. Such is the terror of an increasingly litigious society that every 'I' is dotted and 't' crossed before we even actually write the sentence. The UK has become like spellcheck gone wrong.
The worst effect about this is the climate of fear that is created. If you continually cater towards the worst case scenario all sense of individuality and creativity is lost. In the arts community a defensive attitude is what leads to dull records, drab theatre and films that are so formulaic thought is not necessary. The fear factor spills over into all avenues of life.
I want to remain optimistic. I want to be allowed to act with some suitable risk and courage and I want responsibility for my life... Not some official taking it away from me.
(I am insured to type on my computer).