Tick-box management and the popular
ridicule of health and safety practice have engendered a widespread
confusion and worrying lack of confidence in deciding what is and isn’t
That will be the message of a lecture
to be delivered by past IOSH president Prof Neil Budworth at the British
Library in London tomorrow night (18 November). The lecture is part of
‘Myths and Realities’ – a series of public events exploring contemporary
social issues sponsored by the British Library, the Economic and Social
Research Council and the Academy of Social Science.
In his presentation, entitled ‘Our Schizophrenic Response to Risk – When
did we forget how to manage life?’ Neil – who is corporate health and
safety manager for energy company E.ON UK – will examine how our society
has become “gripped by an uneasy contradiction: we won’t tolerate risks
or mistakes but neither do we want to be controlled or nannied”.
On the one hand, Neil will argue, we rail against the idea of any kind
of authority telling us what we can and can’t do, even if an activity or
behaviour is dangerous, either to ourselves or to others. We see this as
a fundamental attack on our personal freedom, no matter how trivial.
Yet as soon as something goes seriously wrong, he’ll suggest, we demand
to know why – usually in hindsight – there weren’t more stringent checks
in place, why any hint of risk wasn’t completely quashed, citing the
cases of Madeleine McCann and Baby Peter as examples.
Neil will also examine the role of the media in stirring up the current
backlash against health and safety: “Our popular press and media will be
leading the charge against any easy scapegoats in this moral panic,
ruthlessly holding up individuals and authorities as examples of a wider
decline in standards of personal responsibility and integrity.
"And yet those same editorial voices will accuse the authorities of
cosseting us all and taking away our freedom to live our lives without
interference from petty bureaucracy and the nanny state.”
The lecture will also expose the way health and safety is used as a
convenient screen to mask the real, unpalatable reasons – often
political or commercial – for activities not being allowed to go ahead.
The event starts at 6pm and costs £6 (or £4 with concessions) to attend.
Other eminent speakers on the night include former HSC chair Sir Bill
Callaghan, Prof Jenny Kitzinger of the University of Cardiff, and
professor of risk regulation at the London School of Economics, Bridget