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Is GDPR the new Health & Safety Act?

Is the Health & Safety Act spreading?

Increasing the hype and furore surrounding the GDPR is reminding me about the introduction of Health & Safety back in 1974. So is this the start of another bureaucratic leviathan that will end up driving companies to the wall as they fight increasingly changing legislation?

You may not be old enough to remember the original Health & Safety Act. But it is still there for you to see on the government website. In particular in the first few paragraphs I remember seeing these words.

Without prejudice to the generality of an employer’s duty under the preceding subsection, the matters to which that duty extends include in particular—

(a)the provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;

(b)arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances;

(c)the provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees;

(d)so far as is reasonably practicable as regards any place of work under the employer’s control, the maintenance of it in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks;

(e)the provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work.

And the words which jumped out at me were “so far as is reasonably practicable”. These were repeated five times – once in every clause. But who would say that is true of the Health & Safety industry today. They seem to get into every nook and cranny and often are the cause of many of the annoyances that grumpy old men like me see and object to.  

The stupidity

The following list was drawn up by the Independent newspaper in 2016

  • In 2010 Royal Mail told postal workers in Devon that they didn’t need to deliver to homes that were on cobbled streets during wet weather.
  • In November 2015 a blind girl from Bristol was banned by her school from using her walking cane because it was considered a trip hazard.
  • During 2015 the University of Birmingham banned Classics graduands from throwing their mortar boards in the air.
  • More ridiculously, in January of this year British soldiers were told they could no longer fire actual mortars during training because even with ear defenders the sound of the explosion breached the 137 decibel limit.
  • Mangos, kiwis, chocolate, and nuts, were banned from home lunch boxes at schools because of worries over allergic reactions from staff.
  • A ban at three Butlins resorts has been brought against Dodgems/Bumper cars that are found to be “bumping”. 
  • Glasses with handles banned in pubs. (This was one of the many rules overturned by the Health and Safety Executive.)
  • A pregnant woman was asked to get off of a bus in Chesterfield after fears the two tins of paint she was carrying might leak and cause a slipping hazard.
  • During the last solar eclipse a primary school in Cardiff banned pupils from watching, even though they’d been given guidance on how to safely look at the eclipse.
  • In Colchester rubbish collectors were banned by the Council from wearing Santa hats in case they distracted other road users.

The Health and Safety Executive are quick to point out that lots of things banned on the grounds of “health and safety” are done without their authority, and sometimes safety is just an excuse when schools and councils don’t want to hold an event.

And that’s the point. GDPR (or perhaps we now need to call it the Data Protection Act 2017) is well overdue. Data collection has changed massively in the past ten years and the current Act may not have been completely fit for purpose but are we about to create a monster?

PPI for data?

Are we about to see thousands of stern faced “solicitors” on the TV every night advertising the ability to sue Company A for holding your data when you hadn’t given them permission? Will we find increasingly that all of our questions are met with “I’m sorry I can’t answer that under the Data Protection Act” ? – Yes I know it already happens – but it’s going to get worse.

Will I have to sit in front of my computer wearing a yellow tabard and hard hat and protective goggles in case some of the data jumps out and damages me?

I know change is needed. But please don’t end up driving hundreds of companies to the wall because they can’t meet your ridiculous time-scales or miss out a hyphen in someone’s name.

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