Not logged in?

For access to our up-to-the minute articles and know-how knowledge
we invite you to join our community. It's free and you will access more than is available to non-members.

  • Opinion - a personal viewpoint on risk and compliance.
  • Legislation - the laws that affect you directly.
  • How To's - hints and tips for an easier life.

Fire walkers and tree climbers

Man on fire
Why is it that one man is allowed to walk through fire and another is not allowed to climb a tree? Are there some people that have special authority to do whatever they like whilst others are restricted? Or do they sign indemnity forms meaning they can do anything they want as long as they accept it is their fault if it goes wrong? Or perhaps they have found the loopholes in our health & safety laws?

I watched a brilliant science documentary on the TV a while ago. The reporter wanted to show what it was like in the middle of a fire. So he put on a firesuit – it looked like a 1960’s moon suit – and walked, with his camera, through a tunnel of fire.

The imagery was fantastic and the descriptive language of how he felt as the flames licked his protective suit made me wish I was there with him. When he walked out a couple of firemen started to immediately remove him from his slightly smouldering suit as he continued talking to camera telling the viewer how he felt physically and mentally. It was terrific viewing.

The same week I woke to a radio news item telling the story of a child getting stuck up a tree at school. The report claimed the child’s teachers left him for hours because “health & safety” would not allow them to implement a rescue. The radio reporter did not name the “health & safety” individual who had laid down this rule but simply implied it was a typically ridiculous rule that is ruining the lives of children and teachers and frankly, all of us everywhere. Health & Safety stinks! Pah!

The question I have is why could the reporter walk through fire but a teacher cannot climb a tree?

Health & safety laws are the same for all. There are no special opt-outs for fancy-pants science reporters. Brainy teachers are not entitled to better protection than anyone else.

The reason is because of the interpretation of the regulations. I do not know the details of either of these cases but I can guess from the response how the subject matter may have been raised.

The TV reporter (or more likely, the production company) said “how can I walk through fire safely without causing harm to me, my crew or anyone else close by”. Their advisor has told them how he can do it - the minimum safety requirements, the firesuit, the firemen, the training (and I suspect full medical back-up, etc,). That is what a good health & safety advisor does. The production company clearly assessed the cost and the project went ahead – to this viewer’s joy.

In the case of the little tree-climbing adventurer, I would suggest the teacher either just assumed they could do nothing or a jobs-worth advisor said they were not allowed. Either way, it would seem to me that no-one asked the question of “how can I do this safely?”

Should a teacher even have to ask? In my day of tree climbing, no-one had to ask. When I fell out of a tree and broke my arm at the grand old age of 9, my parents only concern was my comfort. There were no family discussions on who and how many people should be sued.

So a teacher does have to ask because if they take it upon themselves and the child falls in panic, the school would undoubtedly get a no-win, no-fee legal letter demanding financial recompense, and the teacher could lose their job.

But the fact is it would only have taken moments for a safe plan to be implemented and for the child to be rescued.

Next time you hear or read a disparaging report on the news regarding a so-called ridiculous health & safety ruling, take the time to think of the firewalker and consider what might be the truth.

And if you encounter a health & safety advisor who greets every question you have by sucking in his teeth, change the way you ask the question. Don't say "Can I...?" Say "How can I...?"

What about you? Have any other tips on how to deal with H&S Advisors?

Event Training

We call it the Knowledge Audit. Critical must-know information when planning and managing events. A training course. An assessment tool. A knowledge audit. If you're not sure what you don't know then this will probably be the best training investment you have ever made. Priced from £25.  Find out more »

"The process and policy recommendations were relevant, precise and simple to implement by our Tournament Director; so an excellent service delivered perfectly".

John Simpson, CEO, JSA Ltd.
Chairman of The Duke of York Young Champions Trophy

Speaker? Lecturer? Presenter?

Guest speaker at Bournemouth University. Lecturer at Regents College. Presenter for Chartered Institute of Public Relations. If you would like us to also assist your organisation on the topic of risk management at events, or simply event management with a risk bi-line please get in touch.

Contact us to discuss what you need and when.

Like this page?

Supplier review?

Mad woman

If you handle hundreds of events every year and employ numerous agencies, either under contract or ad-hoc, it may be time to undertake a risk review with your suppliers.

Responsibility and liability is often shared and certainly cannot be transferred - even by contract - particularly if the matter falls under criminal law.

Your suppliers. Your duty of care.

Interested to hear more. Contact us or read more about our assessment.