HSE buries its towels slip

Despite its famously frank Chairman, the Health and Safety Executive seems very coy about its widely-derided research into bathroom slippages. We investigate the missing web site entry.

Poor Sir Bill Callaghan. The boss of the Health and Safety Commission (and through it the Health and Safety Executive) has tried very hard to distance himself and his organisation from the “jobsworth rulings that threaten seemingly innocent traditions and pastimes” that would “wrap kids in cotton wool and bind up businesses with red tape” as the Times’ Public Agenda put it last week in a sympathetic interview.

The HSC and HSE (soon to be merged, apparently) govern workplace safety, and are there to stop children being sent up chimneys or lathe operators from losing their fingers. The people who ban conker fights, chop down trees in case children climb them, condemn doormats as a trip hazard and hanging baskets in case they fall on us, are usually dim little ferret-faced men from local councils, with clip-boards where their brains should be and an exaggerated sense of their own importance.

Callaghan is quoted as saying that “People use health and safety as a convenient excuse when what they mean is its too expensive or they can’t be bothered or they don’t want to take the rap for an unpopular decision”.

We have them here in droves at Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council. The councillor who chopped down the willow trees of Osney with no warning or consultation (or, as it turned out, any evidence of actual danger from most of them) is a good example. The officer who plastered the banks of the Thames with big red notices after someone drowned is another. Oxfordshire Highways is entirely staffed by people like this.

When they plead health and safety, what they usually mean is that they are scared of being blamed, too thick to analyse likely patterns of cause and effect, too dim to distinguish between hazard and risk, too idle to take anything but the safe course which allows them to to ignore all arguments. “Elf ‘n safety” they say. “Get a life”, said Bill Callaghan once.

A good bloke, I concluded, furious that his organisation’s work is so undermined by little people who mock its work by such unintelligent use of its name and who create jobs for themselves by misappropriating its principles.

So it was unfortunate timing that the same week should bring news of the publication of the HSE’s latest research, a study called The Role of Towels As A Control to Reduce Slip Potential. It took a month and cost £12,000 to investigate whether you are more or less likely to slip if you put a towel down on the bathroom floor. The results were inconclusive and more research is needed.

This challenges, just a little, Callaghan’s assertion that it is just the pondlife from local authorities who waste taxpayers’ money on pointless things. There is a challenge also to the general spirit of openness which Sir Bill wants us to see in his organisation.

This column generally tries to check its assertions, and the fact that the story appeared in the Daily Mail and the Sun on 4 August does not amount to proof that it is true. A Google search for some relevant words took me to an entry for http://www.hsenews.com.

The role of towels to reduce slip potential


There it was – a reference to the by now infamous study, along with news of a competition for a new gas something or another. The gas entry is indeed on the page which is found from that link. But there is no sign of anything about towels on that page. I searched for “towels” using a box headed “Search the news archive” and found no entries. A search for “slip” found nine entries, none of them about towels (but which did at least prove that the site search works).

I did eventually find it (and fascinating reading I am sure its 26 pages are) buried in the research section. But the reference there has capitals for “Role” and “Towels” and is not therefore the same as the reference in the Google entry. The conclusion, I fear, is that this seminal work was on the news page and was indexed as such by Google, but was removed when the story blew up, leaving only the Google clue to survive until the next re-indexing.

I wonder why. Is the HSE not proud of its pioneering work in this field?



About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Hazard and risk, Health & Safety, Oxford. Bookmark the permalink.

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