By Barnaby Perkins
When it comes to the burgeoning industry surrounding health and safety legislation I am, like the chorus in T.S.Eliot’s play ‘The Family Reunion’, ‘afraid of all that has happened, and of all that is to come’.
In our age, H.S.E. (Health, Safety and the Environment) practitioners, legislators, auditors, and general gurus, have become like the high priests of some new religious faith or cult. They permeate every area of our lives, impinging on and infringing our personal liberty and dampening down the human spirit. They dog each move we make in a society, becoming evermore concerned with how we manage our own individual, and our civilization’s, ‘safety.’
Just like the many things that arrive in our lives and ‘sit at the door, as if they had been there always,’ so has the legislation in this area arrived on our doorstep, like an amorphous black blob, providing a multitude of reasons to hobble us in our day-to-day activities.
‘Sorry – it’s against health and safety regulations’ has become a watch cry, the overarching excuse for anyone who can not, or will not, be bothered to exercise the freedom of the human spirit in the general public anaesthetising of our times.
In New Zealand the Health and Safety in Employment Act first came to sit at our door in 1992 and, according to the Department of Labour, was reviewed and amended substantially in 2002. So, eighteen years of unimpeded growth, with a substantial boost eight years ago—this particular thing at the door has by now wormed its way under the portal and now permeates our entire collective consciousness.
As the Department of Labour remarked at some point:
“The object of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 is to promote the prevention of harm to all people at work, and others in, or in the vicinity of, places of work.”Now, how can one cavil against that? It has got to be good stuff has it not?
Again the Department of (Slave) Labour:
“The Act applies to all New Zealand workplaces and places duties on employers, the self-employed, employees, principals and others who are in a position to manage or control hazards.”
Great! Anyone protesting H.S.E. legislation is immediately branded as a negative unit, an industrial saboteur at worst, and a social misfit at the very least. How can one rail against something which is so obviously and basically intrinsically ‘good’?
Yes – it is the Emperor’s New Clothes all over again. Only the odd little voice in the wilderness dares exclaim ‘Let us live free from your silly restrictions – please!’
A recent letter to the editor of a provincial newspaper (regarding the closure, by the district council, of a hydroslide at the local aquatic centre, after 250,000 successful rides and 41 ‘unfortunate incidents’—all attributed to lack of personal common sense) has lead the correspondent to wonder if,
‘in this cotton wool wrapped, politically correct society [has perhaps become] alone in this view, or is it a case of the silent majority being dictated to by a vocal, powerful lily-livered minority when it comes to any activity that has a small element of danger………?’No, fear not—you are not alone. But read the Department of Labour’s own words once more. This legislative persiflage really has, or knows, no bounds. It is good for you.
It applies to everyone and everything everywhere and it is for your own benefit—or is it?
What about the thousands of, legislators, high priests and acolytes, safety officers, auditors, trainers, and civil servants who depend on the full extension of this cant for their, often well-padded, livings?
Having come to sit at our doors, these people will not just go quietly away.
I would hesitate to use the word ‘academic’ in this context, but there are even University qualifications available for serious health and safety practitioners. (Universities need to be safe and make money too!)
Rather like the ‘certified ordinations’ for bush Baptist ministers, obtainable my mail and distance study—for a small donation—these are readily available for ‘would be’ high priests of the art.
No doubt pitched to suit the working mindset of a precocious seven year old—the thought patterns directing safety legislation seem to operate well in this rarefied atmosphere—these qualifications are proliferating as we speak. There is certainly a GradDipOSH (distance learning) offered by Massey University and a MOHS (Yes—that is Master of Occupational Health and Safety) obtainable from The University of Newcastle, Australia.(again by distance learning!)
There is probably even a PhDOSH coming online somewhere if you care to look.
Wonderful letters to put after your name, should you be so inclined.
I often wonder where, in the political scheme of thing, all these safety and health practitioners were in the years between 1914 and 1918, or 1939 to 1945, when we really needed them.
Where were the ‘explosion hazard’ and ‘ looking over the top of this trench could be injurious to you health’ signs – when they could have done some good?
They are here now and I am still afraid. There are three choices really:
1) Get qualified and become one of them. Join the cult – it requires little or no intelligence otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it! An easy and fiscally rewarding solution - if you can afford the cost.
2) Remain as one of the sheep – follow their ever encroaching curtailment of your life and freedom – if you can afford the cost.
3) Protest. Ignore them wherever possible. Rant against the Emperor’s new clothes. Laugh at them. Join the growing number of voices in the wilderness. You can’t afford not to.
© Barnaby Perkins April 14, 2010
Barnaby Perkins is a Taranaki based freelance writer, Ship’s Captain, and monocle wearer.
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