Safety at Christmas

There are greater hazards than mince pies and sherry

It is easy during the festive period to allow our attitudes to Health & Safety to relax, however it is at times like these that we must make a special effort to be more vigilant than ever. Here is a link to a story that I came across on the BBC website that warns us of the health dangers of the “Santa Claus Diet”.

The article, whilst thought provoking from a health perspective, unfortunately overlooks several serious and perhaps more significant process safety weaknesses in Santa Claus’ working arrangements. Whilst there are health risks associated with binge eating and drinking, the fact that Santa has been doing this for several hundred years suggests that any adverse health effects would not necessarily be chronic. It is also unclear whether all mince pies are consumed in one sitting. It is possible, and perhaps more likely, that he collects them and takes them back to the North Pole in a Tupperware container for his elves.

Detailed analysis of his safety arrangements, on the other hand, are less easy to defend.

Working at Height, Confined Space Working and PPE

Santa Claus gains access to properties by a controlled landing on the roof. Whilst his work wear could be considered “hi viz”, the good news ends there. There is no evidence of the use of a hard hat or other appropriate PPE, safety harnasses or scaffolding – an absolute minimum for this type of activity. Furthermore access to the building is often via a “chimney pot” with no apparent application of structured confined space working arrangements, or a site specific fire risk assessment.

The failure to consider the Hierarchy of Controls in risk management demonstrates a flagrant disregard for an effective Safe System of Work. It would seem obvious that both Working at Height and Confined Space Working could be cheaply eliminated by simply parking up safely at ground level and gaining access by a door. Whilst this may not be as quick as landing on the roof and jumping down the chimney, and it may mean that the distribution of presents may need to be spread out over more than one evening or partially sub-contracted, safety must never be compromised in order to speed the job up or save money!

Manual Handling and Young Persons

A couple of years ago, whilst on a Search for Santa break in Lapland, I was able to meet Santa Claus. I took the opportunity to question him on his workplace safety arrangements. I found his attitude to be unhelpful. I noticed a queue of young persons waiting to see him (in fact he repeatedly referred me to the long queue as I attempted to put my questions to him). I accepted his assertion that his status on site was that of a subcontractor, however I was not convinced that he had undergone an appropriate contractor induction, had received manual handling training or that alternative lifting arrangements were in place in the event that a child was too big boned to safely lift using standard manual handling techniques. I could not see any mechanical lifting apparatus anywhere in his vicinity, or any signage indicating a weight limit. His claim that his working methods were safe seemed to be based solely on the fact that he “had been doing it that way for years”.  This demonstrated a very poor understanding of how grandfather rights are applied in law.

In summary I think we need to be very careful when dealing with international gift distribution contractors at this time of year. It is an unregulated industry dominated by a very small number of privately run providers for whom workplace safety appears a very low priority.

Have a safe and legally compliant Christmas

Shaun Sayers

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