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Health & Safety - an obsession?

It is almost 20 years since I first had a job in the health and safety profession, but my interest in it goes beyond that, to my first paid job after graduating at an organisation that shall remain nameless.  

 One day I was shredding some documents when suddenly my 1990s style tie that I was wearing got caught in the shredder, and this in turn started tightening the knot around my neck.  I managed to hit the stop button, but a colleague had to cut my tie off me. Left with a red mark around my neck, I asked where the accident book was, to which the reply was that nobody seemed to know.

That moment, where a shredder took offence to my jazzy tie, and the fact that nobody knew what to do, sparked an interest in health and safety that has spanned the rest of my life. 

Over time, it has become more than a career - but a hobby, an interest, and, some might say an obsession.

Fifteen years after the incident that started it all, I was awarded the SHP IOSH Health and Safety Consultant of the Year at the Hyde Park Hilton, which to this day is my proudest health and safety moment. A far cry from an office graduate shredding some documents.

How many of you can say that when you go into a hotel room after checking in, the first thing you do is check the safety notice on the back of the door and follow the corridor to the fire escape? I do - I have been evacuated twice in the middle of the night from hotels - and people do not know where to go in their sleepy slumber.

How many, when in a supermarket and the fire alarm goes off, would just head for the main entrance - the way you came in? Many do, clambering over trolleys that have been left. I don't - I go out of whichever exit is nearest to me - even if that means going through the warehouse at the back of the store near the bakery.

As I say, some may call this an obsession - I call it potentially lifesaving.

What is an obsession, I admit, is when given some money for Christmas, what do I do? I buy a book on health and safety.  Not a book on the laws of the land, but a fascinating insight into the vintage health and safety posters produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) from its early days back in 1916 to the present day.

These posters are not just work related safety posters, but also aimed at protecting the

public in everyday life.  "Safety First" by Paul Rennie is actually a record of Britain's social history throughout the 20th Century, and many of them are just as relevant today.

From a simple poster of a depot covered in snow with a caption "Ice and Snow Mind How You Go" to the safe use of road crossings (who remembers the Tufty Club?), to posters about looking before opening your car door to prevent injury to cyclists, and posters about workplace hazards - still as valid now as the day they were produced.

Many a time you'll hear people saying "when I were a lad there were no such thing as 'elf n safety". This book proves otherwise.  In fact, health and safety is nothing new, just more well known.

I have an interest in history in general, and, while researching something unrelated, came across an article which proves this point. It quotes a report into an accident going back as far as 1540 (yes - 478 years ago - health and safety has been around that long):

"a yonge childe… standing neere to the whele of a horse myll… was by some mishap come within the swepe or compasse of the cogge whele and therewith was torne in peces and killed. And, upon inquisition taken, it was founde that the whele was the cause of the childes death, whereupon the myll was forthwith defaced and pulled downe."

I like to think that through my so-called health and safety "obsession", that I have made a small contribution to protecting people as they go about their daily lives, at home or work, just as the posters in the book have done. Just maybe that accident between a tie and a shredder was meant to be - and maybe, over time, it has helped keep people safer in their workplace.

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