"Elf" and Safety - Myth or Fact

A Talk by Roy Ackrill
10th July 2013



Roy introduced himself and outlined his background in HSE. He was born, bred and educated in Birmingham and qualified as a metallurgist, having worked in a laboratory in Birmingham for 10 years. In 1970 he became an HM Inspector of factories.

HMIF joined with other inspectorates to become the Health & Safety Executive in 1974. Initially, Roy worked mainly in Birmingham factories but also spent some time in the West Midlands. He was transferred to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1976 and covered the North East of England. In 1983 he was promoted to Principal Inspector and transferred to Bristol.

For 7 years he dealt with the construction industry. In one particular bad year he had to deal with 12 fatal accidents. He then changed industries to General manufacturing in the Southwest and was later appointed to the post of Regional Staff Training and Development Manager. His area covered Wales and the West Country (Staffs to Lands End).

In his career he covered a wide range of workplaces and activities from abattoirs to universities, from foundries to residential homes, from construction sites to fairgrounds, from gas fires to nuclear power stations and from TV interviews to court cases. He retired from HSE in 2004.

Roy's talk was lavishly illustrated with examples of the risks that some people take, sometimes verging on the ridiculous. Aside from the “humorous” side of these situations was a serious look at the consequences of risks and the myths that accompany Health& Safety issues. Many statistics were presented, too numerous to list here but for example:-

For 2009/2010 there were 172,000 accidents involving people who slipped, tripped or stumbled. He posed the question "do we have or are we becoming a compensation culture". It would seem so judging by the number of companies touting for business on a "no win, no fee" basis. There is a need for them to be controlled. Car insurance premiums have risen more than 40% since 2010/11 partly as a result of this and insurance referral fees.

Risks are exaggerated e.g. in a year:-
  • 6 people may be killed by aeroplanes
  • 6 by lightning
  • 12 by trains
  • 33 by drowning in the bath
  • 8 by CJD
  • 213 by cyclists BAN THEM!
  • 300 at work


  • Conclusions: Aeroplanes are extremely safe. Cycling is lethal! Pet hates: pavement cyclist and dogs!

    Legislation since 1835 bans cyclists from riding on the pavement. This is not enforced. Why?

    Dog bites are increasing and thousands of dogs are dumped every year. There are new proposals to amend the dangerous dogs act so that people act more responsibly.

    Roy showed us a short video on HSE work over the last 25 years. This featured some of the worst events that HSE has been involved with, including Chernobyl, Piper Alpha, train crashes, mining accidents, Concorde death plunge (Filton), farm accidents, Bunsfield fire, M5 crash (caused by fireworks?) and asbestos deaths. If a death is involved, the HSE have a duty to investigate in case manslaughter is involved. He emphasized that most accidents do not make the headlines and most HSE work, including forensic investigations goes on steadily in the background.

    There are many H&S myths e.g.
  • It is not necessary for children to wear safety glasses to play conkers
  • Children should not be banned from riding in a donkey derby (recent case)
  • Office Christmas decorations should not be banned
  • It is not necessary to ban coins in a Christmas pudding
  • Every risk does not need a safety sign
  • Step ladders should not be banned in the workplace
  • Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) is not a legal requirement

    The HSE actually bans very little. It is all about using common sense. Most bans are about perceived liability (stupidity!). The present government is looking at simplifying legislation; David Cameron "to stop inappropriate extension to cover every walk of life, whatever the risk".

    Roy completed his talk by showing slides of some incredibly dangerous activities by unthinking persons. He handed around some exhibits to demonstrate the stupidity of some individuals. Some pictures of these exhibits are shown below:-
    Pic1 - Elf and safety Pic2 - Elf and safety
    Above - Lethal home made 3 pin plug Above - Overloaded crane hook
    Pic3 - Elf and safety Pic4 - Elf and safety
    Above - remains of glove caught in a drill Above - remains of cutter after attempting to cut a lock

    As is usual with Club meetings, the talk was followed by tea and biscuits during which members were afforded the opportunity to talk to Roy Ackrill

    Ray Westcott

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