WHAT is it indeed with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE)? Asks Ralph Freeman.
I was looking on the Peak District National Park website the other day and found the photo on the front page of a man standing on the top of Kinder Scout. No fences! On a similar tack, the North York Moors National Park web site states clearly:
'You are responsible for your own safety on open access land.'
How different then, from the 'superficial safety' that seems to pervade our canal system these days. Why is the canal system different from a (linear) national park I ask?
In national parks people go rock climbing and take part in other 'dangerous' pastimes. For instance many ride mountain bikes down tracks with trees and large drops just a couple of feet from the track.
A bridge is dangerous
This, apparently, does not worry the HSE, yet a bridge with no handrail on a canal is dangerous! Why the different attitude? I'd have thought hitting a tree whilst riding a mountain bike quickly will put you in A&E (at best), but apparently this is not an issue.
It has been suggested that the HSE has different criteria for man-made objects verses natural objects. In other words if you go to the Peak district National Park and fall 12ft to your death off Curbar Edge, that's 'acceptable', whereas if you fall 12ft off a lock into a canal that could lead to civil (or criminal?) proceedings!
A risk is a risk
Only the HSE could make a distinction between natural hazards, 200 million years old and man made hazards 200 years old. What has history got to do with risk? Have HSE staff been beamed down from the Planet Zod? Surely a risk is a risk?
Falling 12ft onto something very solid is not good no matter how old the elevated platform. Doing something silly or making an error of judgement may cost you your life, period. That's the way it has always been. Why should all the 'non-silly' and careful people suffer because of one thoughtless act or moment of madness by one individual?
However, there are obvious anomalies in the HSE attitude. For instance if you cross a road, (a man made structure), without looking and are run over by a bus, are the roads then fenced off and buses banned or subject to expensive modification? I think not.
So why is HSE on CART's back? Could it be the HSE chiefs are on a bonus too and realise CART is a 'soft touch'. Is it simply a case of 'prosecutions means prizes'?
All this makes life very difficult for the managers of the various CART Regions. On the one hand they have to save money, on the other respond to 'knee jerk' reactions handed down from the Ivory Towers brigade dancing to HSE's tune.
The end result is many thousands of pounds are spent trying to make the canal system 'safe' from folk doing daft things. It's 'mission impossible'. How can you make anywhere safe from people who think trying to jump a 7ft wide lock is a good idea?
Boaters see their licence money wasted, and to add insult to injury see their canals being defaced, locking made more difficult and in some cases more dangerous for them; all in the name of (so-called) 'safety'. No wonder we boaters get angry and frustrated?
Real safety issues ignored
In the mean time, real safety issues such as 'dodgy' lock ladders (too close to the lock wall) and lock steps covered in slime (due to water seepage) or decomposing grass cuttings, and slippery surfaces around balance beams go unattended.
It seems clear there are two standards of safety operating within CART. One for 'Visitors' (over zealous) the other 'couldn't care less' for boaters. Perhaps some of CART's directors should 'get out more' and visit a few national parks and see how it should be done? In the meantime I'm going to try and get some sense out of the HSE.
Another mission impossible? Well, you have to do something when it's hissing down outside and boating is out of the question!