Teresa Budworth: Could your safety measures be making things worse?

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I’m sure many of you were saddened to hear of the deaths of two horses in the Grand National this month.

Synchronised, one of the favourites for this year’s famous horse race, fell at Becher’s Brook. The horse was later put down. The second victim, According To Pete, was also put down after breaking its neck.

Incidents such as these inevitably lead to an outpouring of emotional opinion. In the weeks since the race many have called for the Grand National to be stopped. Others believe it is an important tradition that must be retained. I have my views, but they’re not what I want to talk about here.

Instead, I’d like to highlight a very interesting point that emerged after the race, that of former Grand National winner, Bob Champion – he of Aldaniti and ‘Champions’ fame, for those who know their horses and their movies.

Mr Champion claimed safety measures designed to reduce the size of the fences may have actually made matters worse, allowing the horses to speed up more than in the past, thus leading to a higher risk of fatal injuries.

Following Bob Champion’s comments I tried to do a little research to see if I could uncover whether there was any pattern to horse deaths at the National that could possibly be linked to changes in course design. Unfortunately, I had no luck with this and had to give up. This makes it hard to say whether Mr Champion is right or wrong, but at least it won’t  stop me from making the point I’d like to make.

What Bob Champion did was question something that most people might have reasonably expected to have had a positive outcome. Smaller fences equals safer horse race! And what he did was something we shouldn’t lose sight of when it comes to health and safety at work. We should never simply assume that control measures we introduce at work will have the desired effect, just because we think they will. Wherever possible, control measures should be based on thorough research, expert opinion and of course be continually reviewed.

After all, the last thing we want to do in health and safety is actually make things worse!

About Teresa Budworth

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About Teresa Budworth

Teresa Budworth, Chief Executive of the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health

During a 30 year career in health and safety, she has specialised in safety consultancy; working with a number of Boards of Directors on implementing safety governance within large and diverse organisations. Her work on competence, education and training culminated in her appointment as Chief Executive of NEBOSH; the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health, in 2006.

Prior to joining NEBOSH, Teresa combined management of Norwich Union Risk Service’s (now Aviva) Consultancy operation with her post as a non-executive Director and Trustee of NEBOSH and was Senior Examiner for Diploma Part One from its inception in 1997. She is a Visiting Senior Teaching Fellow and member of the Examination Board for post graduate courses in Occupational Health at the University of Warwick’s Medical School. She is a member of RoSPA’s National Occupational Safety and Health Committee and also serves on the judging panel for RoSPA’s annual occupational safety and health awards. She is a member of IOSH Council.

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