High heels: Lies, damned lies and politics
It is always said that you should never let the truth get in the way of a good story, and while we might expect that of some tabloids, what about when it is politicians? Today the health and safety Minister, Chris Grayling is making a speech to the Policy Exchange where it’s reported he will say:
“It baffles me that at a time when we face a huge jobs challenge across Europe, that someone thinks it is sensible for the EU to be spending time legislating to ban high-heeled shoes in a hairdressers.”
Now the implication of this is that the EU is planning legislation on this. Well that is news to me, and it is news to the European Commission.
What is happening is that discussions are taking place between the employers’ and workers’ representatives at European level through the organisations Coiffure EU and UNI Europa Hair & Beauty over proposals that they want to put to the European Commission on improving the appalling occupational health issues in this industry. So what we have is employers asking for minimum standards to protect their staff. Pretty responsible I would say.
These proposals have not gone to the Commission yet and there is no suggestion from them that they plan any kind of legislation. Also the proposals do not mention high heels. They do mention preventing skin disorders, musculoskeletal diseases and the needs of pregnant workers. Having read the proposals they make some genuinely positive proposals around issues like substituting dangerous chemicals and protective equipment. The nearest it gets to high heels is a suggestion that:
“Workers shall wear suitable clothes for their activities or workwear clothing and, in particular, shoes with non-slip soles.”
I first saw this story when it appeared in the Daily Mail last week. It also got picked up by The Sun. That was when I decided to check it out and within five minutes found out it was rubbish. Now you would have thought that the Health and Safety Minister, with a whole Government department at his disposal could have done the same. In fact you would have thought that, as health and safety minister, he would have known what legislation was currently being considered by the European Commission, so either he has not got a clue what is going on in his own area, or he know that this story was just made up by the tabloid press yet decided to run with it anyway.
I am not sure which is worse.
At a time when we are seeing huge attacks on health and safety in the media, and when workers are facing increased risks and pressures in the workplace we need a minister who is going to stand up for the area he is meant to be protecting. I have no problem with politicians, or anyone else criticising stupid decisions when they happen, but they also have a responsibility to take on the press when they make up these stories as a form of entertainment.
The problem is not that health and safety has gone mad, it is that employers are able to destroy the health of their workers with impunity because those who are meant to be protecting us are no longer willing to stand up for us. As a result, when sensible groups of employers, like those in hairdressing, are prepared to put their head above the parapet and say that they want to do something about it they will be far less likely to do so in the future for fear of getting ridiculed.