Had this emailed to me. It's from yesterdays Telegraph Online. What ever next?
HSE has no head for heights
Because of a bizarre decision by the Health and Safety Executive - that a European Union directive designed to promote safety on building sites must be applied to rock climbers - British mountaineers will have to endanger their lives by fixing two separate ropes up rock faces instead of one. It will also be necessary to fix safety notices on mountains to warn climbers when they are approaching icy or snow-covered surfaces.
For two years Britain's leading climbing and mountaineering organisations have pleaded in vain with the HSE that the "Working at Heights" directive, 2001/45, laying down safety rules for working with ladders and ropes, was never intended to cover outdoor activities such as rock-climbing and caving, to which it is wholly inappropriate. In all other EU countries, such as France, Germany and Austria, this was taken for granted. Only in the UK have the authorities insisted that the directive, designed to promote safety on building sites and for workers such as window cleaners, should also apply to recreations such as rockclimbing, whenever a professional is involved, for example as a guide or instructor.
Among the experts who advised the HSE on the directive were Iain Peter of the National Mountain Centre in North Wales, John Cousins of the United Kingdom Mountain Training Board, and Marcus Bailie, the head of inspection at the Adventure Activity Licensing Authority. They pointed out that when climbers use a rope they do not climb up the rope itself but the rock face. The single rope is only needed as a safety device should they fall off. The directive's requirement that a second rope must be fixed alongside the first would therefore not only be unnecessary but dangerous. Climbers would have to waste effort carrying and installing a heavy second rope which is irrelevant to their safety.
Initially these experts, who formed the HSE's Adventure Activity Industry Advisory Committee, were under the impression that the people they were advising had grasped the points they were making. To their astonishment, when the draft regulations were published, it was obvious that the officials had disregarded everything they had been told - to the extent that they insist on the erection of warning notices when climbers must cross "fragile or brittle surfaces", such as snowfields and icy rock.
What particularly incenses these professional bodies is that they are acknowledged as experts on mountain safety all over the world, which was why the HSE originally invited them to sit on its advisory committee. Yet now that the HSE has persisted in issuing regulations which, as Mr Bailie puts it, "would constitute a reduction in safety standards", the committee is to be dissolved. It seems our safety officials no longer need advice, despite being laughed at by the rest of Europe for devising an application of the directive that they alone could have been crazy enough to conceive.
Posted: 18/08/2003 at 16:25