Posts Tagged 'Damned lies'

How climate change scepticism works

Some interesting thoughts from Media Lens on how the media distort attitudes to climate change here

Crises of Capitalism

Global warming – the clue is in the name you idiots

I find I’ve become the sort of curmudgeon who moans incessantly about the local council. It’s come to this.

Warrington Borough Council’s latest wheeze is to appoint a ‘Climate Change Manager’, at the same time as they are withdrawing services such as buses, parks maintenance and bin collections. The underlying problem with this is that he or she will be able to achieve bugger all because decisions about the climate can only be taken on a global scale. It’s a great example of an organisation failing to focus on the things it can achieve.

For example, it was reported today that global CO2 emissions did not fall last year as predicted by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Any CO2 cuts due to the recession were offset by strong emission increases in China and India. In OECD countries, the economic crisis led to a 7% drop in emissions in 2009. But at the same time, emissions in China and India increased by 9 and 6% respectively. This is the first time since 1992 that a global recession did not lead to a reduction in emissions.

I’m going to write to the Climate Change Manager to see what he or she is going to do about it. I’d like to see Warrington apply some pressure on China to fall in line. Hold on.

Adding insult to injury

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As I’ve already mentioned, Panorama this week looked at the subject of health and safety which  is no laughing matter is it? Well actually, yes, sometimes it is.

One of my pet ideas is a sort of Darwin Awards for health and safety. (For those who don’t know, The Darwin Awards is an annual celebration of ‘those people who improve the species by accidentally removing themselves from it’, such as the Croatian man who in 2002 was killed while trying to open a hand grenade with a chainsaw to retrieve the explosive inside to make fireworks. Or there’s the one on the Darwin Awards website entitled ‘Scrotum Self Repair’ but you’d better look that one up yourself if you really want to.)

This is all a bit unpleasant, tasteless and childish but laughing at other people’s misery is what we do. It was Steve Allen who observed that comedy equals tragedy multiplied by distance and it was Mel Brooks’ assertion that ‘tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die’.

You only have to look at our own favourite comedies to see the wisdom of this. Fawlty Towers? A man teeters on the edge of a nervous breakdown; in one episode he tries to hide a corpse from the other guests in his hotel. The Office? I’m Alan Partridge? Dr Strangelove? The entire output of Laurel and Hardy? Modern Times? All full of violence, misery and thwarted dreams. The Apartment? An apparent romantic comedy centring on a series of affairs and lies and a botched suicide attempt?

Yet whenever I’ve pitched this idea at the editor of a health and safety magazine, the reaction tends to be the same. They laugh, recount their own favourite funny tales of death and serious injury (such as the one about the woman who during a health and safety exhibition was following a group of about 28 health and safety inspectors when she fell down a drain; the demolition workers who blew out the floor they were standing on Wile E. Coyote style; or the man who had his arm ripped off by a machine then reached in to retrieve it with his other arm…

Then they say they can’t do it. Which is a shame really because health and safety managers do worry an awful lot about the image they have in the media. I recall an issue of one of the sector’s best magazines – Safety and Health Practitioner – which raised the issue as its cover story. ‘How the profession can fight the media’s tendency to present health and safety as a killjoy profession’ ran the cover line, heralding a counter-productively po-faced attack on the media along with the apparent minority of health and safety officers who make decisions that discredit the rest of them.

One of the problems here is that health and safety managers seem to have no problem finding bitter humour in poking fun at other people for not listening to them. Elsewhere in the same issue of SHP, there was the now standard picture of some bloke doing some work on a roof without a tether of some sort. Building magazine runs a similar picture each week; typically of some imbecile standing on a sloped roof in shorts working with a chainsaw on some overhanging tree branches. What could possibly go wrong?

Now, having a dig at such people is perfectly reasonable. Or would be except for the fact that the profession and the law believe that an employer has a duty to not only ensure the reasonable health and safety of people but also anticipate accidents brought about by the actions of bloody idiots. How exactly firms are expected to guess at what their staff and customers, some of them thick or mentally ill, may do in all circumstances seems to be rather less clear.

This principle has been reinforced by recent rulings from the House of Lords without much negative comment from the health and safety profession. In fact, such ideas seem to be broadly welcomed in the profession. One of the best examples I can think of to demonstrate this is the now infamous example of an Edinburgh hotel that was fined £400,000 a couple of years ago after a guest climbed out a third floor window for reasons known only to her and fell to her death. This was a complex case and there were some health and safety failings but the apparently key factor – why exactly this woman did what she did – didn’t affect the fine.

The ruling was broadly welcomed in the H&S sector. And that is precisely where things have gone wrong. Forget the out of context quotes and distortions of the media, the profession’s biggest enemy is itself because it works on the dogmatic principle that people need protecting from themselves, when what is apparent is that sometimes people need to take the consequences of their own actions. And that includes other people adding insult to injury.

Health and Safety Gone Mad

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Tonight’s Panorama seems to be premised on a piece of bar-room wisdom; the one that tells us the world is going to hell in a handcart thanks to health and safety killjoys. Well, sometimes the bloke at the bar might have a point of sorts but maybe not for the reasons he thinks.

As we all know, the modern workplace is a death trap. Most of us are lucky to get home in one piece at the end of each day, regardless of the job we do. Of course, technically the most dangerous professions are those such as agriculture, forestry and construction. Proper, hardcore industries which employ proper, hardcore people, some of them working miles from the nearest outpost of civilisation, in the open air, doing what used to be considered the core functions of work, namely making things or destroying things or moving things from one place to another.

This kind of work is dangerous because it often involves operating machines and tools that use hammers, winches, tungsten blades, cables, scoops, belts, wheels, cogs, drills, explosives and spikes to chop, lift, skewer, smash, pierce, detonate, slice, chip and topple heavy, pointy otherwise inanimate objects such as trees, buildings, rocks and dead cows. Sometimes the people putting their arses on the line in this way do so while they’re up ladders, driving or stood on top of, next to or at the base of the heavy, pointy, suddenly moving objects.

Of course, you’d never believe this sort of stuff was all that dangerous compared to the work of us poor lambs who stare at computers all day. Not if you were just to read about the sheer number of risks that we apparently take when we sit down. No part of our body is now safe from the degradations of office work, not our hands, arms, backs, necks and legs; all of them at risk of moving too often or not enough or in the wrong direction. Our noses are assailed by smoke, perfume, solvents, poor air and positive ions. Our ears by ringtones and machines and other people’s yap. Our hearts, lungs and bodily fluids subjected to the most appalling risks.

Even our genitals are not safe. The Lancet once reported the case of a 50 year old Swedish scientist who had burned his penis with his laptop after working with it in an armchair for an hour without moving. The man claimed he was dressed at the time, but it’s fair to say that expert opinion on this matter veers towards the sceptical.

Then of course there’s the impact office work has on the inside of our heads. Recent figures show that stress is now the number one source of magazine articles in the world today. Regular readers who occasionally make it beyond the first two paragraphs of this column will know my views on this so I don’t feel the need to rehash them here.

Suffice to say that based on what you might read, nobody is actually doing any work in Britain nowadays, because, if they’re not at a physiotherapist, they are rendered completely unproductive by depression and murderous fantasies about their co-workers.

There are lots of reasons why we have arrived at this point but the most important one is to do with the way that marketing functions through the media in the UK. Companies with a product to sell need to build a business case for it and that means raising a concern with customers or possibly scaring the shit out of them either with a direct personal appeal to them or with the threat of harm and litigation.

This is a perfectly valid way of doing business of course, and I wouldn’t have a business without it, but it can lead to problems. One of them is the potential for some claims to confuse the hell out of people. For example a year or so back, I saw a survey by Travelodge that claimed that late-sleeping workers are causing the UK economy up to £619m in lost productivity, based on the finding that half of the UK’s workforce will arrive late to work on any given day – 20 per cent or six million, of whom would have overslept. At the same time an organisation calling itself Siesta Awareness launched Siesta Awareness Day on the 11 July, claiming that a ‘20 minute nap in the middle of a working day can increase productivity by over 30 per cent and alertness by 100 per cent as well as improve memory and concentration. Recent research shows that we can also reduce stress and the risk of heart disease by 34 per cent. Sleep deprivation has been shown to make weight loss more difficult as well as cause accidents at work and on the road.’ Draw your own conclusions.

As well as confusing claims, there is also the potential for workplace scare stories to throw up some dubious claims and some that are plain nonsense. I know it’s wrong to stereotype people, but the worst culprits for peddling new age tat are magazines aimed at predominantly female audiences such as PAs and secretaries. For example – and I won’t name the magazine involved – I recently read an article about RSI that claimed that the solution had nothing to do with medical advice, seating and training but was to use magnets, which apparently draw blood to the afflicted area of the arm by attracting the iron in the red corpuscles. You could argue about that, but really there is a one word response to it.

 

 

Writing headlines

198320date20unknown20age20economic20graph20not20up20_8The headline on the BBC website goes like this:

‘Signs of hope for UK businesses’

The opening sentence goes like this:

‘Conditions are improving for British businesses, two new reports suggest.’

The facts as reported in the feature are these:

‘Companies surveyed for the Access to Finance report from employers’ group the CBI were less negative in March than they had been in February. Also, there was a small rise in short term confidence in March measured by the accountants BDO Stoy Hayward. In the CBI report, 36% more firms said the availability of credit had deteriorated over the past three months than said it had improved. But that figure was well down on February’s margin of 59%. BDO’s Business Trends report showed a modest increase in confidence based on whether companies expect good revenue from orders. While it only rose from 88.3 in February to 88.6 in March, it is a big improvement on recent big falls.’

So, of the two reports, one says things are worse but they’ve got less worse than the previous month. The other says things are pretty much the same (allow for statistical error and the fact this survey is based on perceptions and they might well be worse here as well). So where do the journalist’s headline and opening sentence come from?


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