Health and safety regulations have gone mad. More and more they are real barriers to making things happen, to thinking outside the box or to simply living an interesting life. Now, I'm not one to say that we should ditch any thought about health and safety, I do want to live in a safe environment. However, if health and safety regulations restrict our lives in such a way that it's having a serious impact on people or the environment, in my view, health and safety has to be rethought.
Take some examples:
If you want to register as a childminder, you have to demonstrate that for every change of nappy for every child you use a different towel as an underlay (I assume disposable paper underlays may be ok, but that would create a lot of avoidable rubbish). You will also have to keep anything that can be considered to be medicine in a locked box which is out of reach of children (in my world it's enough to have either). Any registered childcare now has to get a consent form in triplicate for applying bum cream, and selfsame bum cream has to have been prescribed for the child (which means I have to ditch the creams already in my possession). By the time I'd completed the forms for applying bum cream I wasn't quite sure of my own name any more I had had to write it so often.
Childminders now also have to go through a food hygiene course if they provide any home cooked or even home prepared food - otherwise they can only feed food provided by the parent. In practice that means they can't even open a banana that hasn't come from the child's parents' home. And I bet you that the contents of the pricey food hygiene course is something like - "use separate chopping boards for different food groups and wash your hands before and after preparing food." Because really, what more can there be to food hygiene? Food hygiene regulations, i.e. health and safety in relation to food, also account for a lot of disposable catering which I raved about before. It is not considered hygienic to have a sugar bowl with sugar, or a milk jug - imagine, the milk could go off! And the sugar may have a drop of tea in it - deary me, what a disaster. At jumble sales and coffee mornings it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise money for a good cause because that home made jam - you know, you cannae trust it, what with not having a food hygiene certificate course. And there's oh so much that could go wrong when chucking fruit and sugar together in a pot and boiling it for 5 minutes. So we're doomed to buy supermarket jams which may be controlled in terms of food hygiene (hm, when did they last find something dodgy in it?) but who knows what additives have made their way into this mass produced food.
Oh and then there's the nursery feeding policy - I'm allowed to provide my own food, even home-cooked food (hurray) but it cannot be warmed up because they can't guarantee that the heat is distributed evenly. Now, I have a fussy eater as it is, and cold spagbol just doesn't kick it. So instead she is fed school dinners which in the space of just 6 days have included arctic roll, baked beans, Pudding, sweetened yogurts, digestive biscuits, soup with I would assume normal stock (and that's just the stuff I remembered). So for fear of burns my baby is getting a diet too rich in refined sugars and salt for a baby.
In any public venue, staff of the venue will regularly tell my child not to do certain things because she may hurt herself. The staff are clearly fearful of liability (though they should be insured?) while I see this as an inappropriate interference with my role as a parent. If I'm there and supervising, if I know my child and her limits, that is safe enough. Yes, she may fall, she may hurt herself but show me the child who never falls and never hurts herself? Come on, it's part of being a child! In general terms too, my 4 year old is quite good at assessing risk herself. She won't do things that she's not comfortable with and usually has a fair idea of what is too risky.
Next, let me take you to the swimming pool. The other day, while I was getting baby and myself dressed and baby was rather unhappy, I put her in her car seat and handed her to Mr Cartside to calm her, who was also watching 4 year old (who had armbands on) in the baby pool. Mr Cartside was right next to 4 year old and ready to grab her should anything happen, but technically he was out of the pool while she was in. The life guard on duty asked him to remove 4 year old from the pool as he wasn't supervising her (what?) and he would physically have to be in the pool with her. I've since been rather reluctant to go swimming with the whole family.
I'm sure there are many more examples where health and safety regulations backfire. It stifles innovation, out of the box thinking. We are becoming overregulated. While there is good sense in having good standards, it becomes ridiculous when the good standard is preventing activities which are important parts of our lives or has consequences which are worse than the risk that they tried to reduce. It seems that regulations only go one way, of being tighter, rather than there being an open debate on the practicality and reasonability of legislation. I as the parent do not ask for legislation over applying bum cream. I trust the nursery staff to heat up food appropriately and without heat spots and would rather take the risk than have my baby fed unsuitable food. I as a parent would be happier for the nursery to give Calpol if my baby was in pain while I was on the way to pick her up. Surely as long as the parent consents to what is given to the child that should be enough, and it shouldn't need a prescription and triplicate forms.
What all of these regulations do is push activities almost underground. Childminding swaps are kept secret because getting registered for occasional childminding amongst friends is simply a pain in the bum and not worth it. So the backlash is that people will avoid regulation at all cost, which surely must be an unwanted side effect. At the same time, new regulations relating to health and safety are introduced all the while without proper debate amongst those affected by them. At the end of the day, we cannot eliminate risk, but we can reduce it and manage it. And when we do so, it's paramount to weigh up the pros and cons, and maybe it is wise at times to accept risk and not err on the side of caution.
I do want to be able to sell jam for charity. I'd like to be able to swap childcare with non-family members and provide food. I'd like to be able to go swimming with two children. I'd like to see nursery and school embark on outings and activity that carry a risk, so that my children learn how to assess and deal with risk responsibly. It is also about perspective: in an environment where children are more likely to pick up and play with broken glass or eat dog poo, it's nothing short of daft having to use different underlays at every nappy change. So let's get real and open up the debate, and maybe we can review some of the less, how shall we say, successful regulations?