The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 became law on the 22nd March and defines the fundamental structure and authority for the regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare within the United Kingdom.
Before the Act building sites were a great place to play at weekends or in the evenings after the builders had gone home. There was a building boom in the 1960s and this presented all sorts of opportunities for mischievous packs of boys. Especially good fun was climbing ladders that had been conveniently left up against walls and which gave access to the upper floors and the external scaffolding.
The Act defines general duties on employers, employees, contractors, suppliers of goods and substances for use at work, persons in control of work premises, and those who manage and maintain them, and persons in general. It established a system of public supervision through the creation of the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive and bestows extensive enforcement powers, ultimately backed by criminal sanctions extending to unlimited fines and imprisonment for up to two years.
Before the Act and the threat of imprisonment if anyone was injured in these dangerous playgrounds builders were generally pretty careless about tidying up before they dashed off to the pub at the end of the day and there were piles of bricks to build camps out of (much better than Lego), sewer pipes to crawl through, sand and cement to kick around and oil drums and bits of timber to take away and use to build rafts to sail on the canal. This never really worked either and once a passing police patrol car stopped and the officers watched us building a waterway craft with bits of stuff we had ‘borrowed’. They teased us by asking to see our boat license and then as we dawdled about hoping they would just drive off told us to hurry up and get on because they wanted to see us fall off and get wet before getting on with their duties. We clambered aboard and didn’t disappoint them. I can still hear them laughing as I write this.
Probably the most dangerous place we found to play in was an underground network of sewer pipes (before they were in use obviously) with a square chamber somewhere within the labyrinth where we used to crawl to with candles and just sit down there for no apparent reason other than we shouldn’t really have been there. I dread to think now what would have happened if there had been a flash flood because we would have surely drowned.
Although I have to agree that it is most sensible, today the HSE provides spoil-sport guidance that warns children that:
‘Building sites are not playgrounds’
“Long summer evenings are a time for fun and adventure, unfortunately, all too often it can also be a time of tragedy”, said Jim Skilling, Principal Inspector of Construction. “Understandably some children are drawn to construction sites as exciting places to play, but they are not playgrounds and playing on them can have fatal consequences. Industry and parents need to work together to ensure children’s safety. He advises:
warn children against playing in dangerous areas, including building sites;
make sure you know where your children are going, and when they will be back;
encourage them to play only in safe areas such as playgrounds;
workers should watch out for children playing around sites, if you see children, stop work and make sure they are off site before you begin again;
lay heavy objects on the ground or fix them firmly upright so they cannot fall onto children and injure them;
secure sites adequately when finishing work for the day;
never allow children to ride in construction plant machinery.
Where is the fun in all that regulation?