Health & Safety gone mad? What can ergonomics do?

There are always articles appearing in the press about “barmy” decisions taken on the basis of “health & safety”, usually by local authorities. The theme is usually an over-reaction to what, for most of us, would seem a fairly non-hazardous activity in an attempt to remove any trace of liability.

Two articles in the press this week highlight this again: firstly, this article appeared in Metro  ( on children doing work repairing a carving in a chalk hill – a task that the Probation Service assessed as too risky for their offenders to do. Second, was this article in the Evening Standard about a letter box that has been closed as it has been assessed as a handling risk for postmen as it is too low (

Our argument is not whether these decisions were right or wrong but that these types of story often suggest a problem with a lack of understanding of ergonomics, physiology and the liklihood of particular actions causing injury.

The situation on the hillside might have been addressed through identifying control measures such as appropriate footwear and training which could have reduced the risks to an acceptable level.

The postbox is interesting as the ergonomics of manual handling requires consideration of the frequency of handling, the nature of the loads as well as the posture and environment. A poor posture, such as a low height, is not automatically an unacceptable risk if the handing is not frequent (once a day not usually being regarded as constant) and the loads are not heavy or unstable.

To produce sensible results the risk assessment process required in Health & Safety law requires a sensible judgement on probablility and consequence (i.e. you cannot eliminate risk) as well as a good and competent understanding of ergonomics.



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