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NO PLACE FOR ELF ‘N’ SAFETY AT RoSPA

Elf ‘n’ Safety is a phrase that clearly gets Tom Mullarkey’s back up because as well as working to prevent accidents, the CEO of The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) also has to participate in an ongoing PR campaign against the tabloid press that all too often paints an ugly picture of anyone involved in accident prevention.

Mullarkey explains: "Certain sections of the media blame health and safety for everything and label anyone working in the industry as a jobsworth. It’s frustrating because you only have to walk in to any accident and emergency department in the country to see why health and safety is important. Then, if you ask the nurses they’ll tell you they see the same accidents day-in day-out. Every single day people fall off ladders or injure themselves doing the gardening. These are all incidents that are easily preventable."

It’s difficult to argue with this sentiment and even if you did want to begin debating who’s to blame for creating our so-called ‘nanny state’, it’s probably not advisable because Mullarkey comes across as a man that won’t back down easily and his career history tells you that he is clearly a determined character. He started out pursuing an army career in the Royal Artillery and it was during this time that he was involved in helping to save thousands of lives when he headed up a team in charge of the humanitarian operation that was instrumental in bringing sanity back to Rwanda following the country’s genocide in 1994. When he arrived, Rwanda was in the grip of anarchy but Mullarkey battled against bureaucracy and intransigence to help restore order to the country, repatriate the refugees and establish a framework for justice and reconciliation, work which saw him promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded an MBE. Then, after leaving the army at the age of 39, he went to work at a merchant bank in the City before joining the team organising the 2002 Commonwealth Games as the General Manager. When asked what that entailed he simply replied: “Organising the Commonwealth Games,” as if it’s an everyday and straightforward task.

So good organisational skills are clearly a strong point and with army life, somewhat ironically, laying the foundations to prevent suffering and save lives, the move to RoSPA in 2006 was an easy decision. “I was chief executive of The National Security Inspectorate and had been there for four years and fancied a new challenge. When this opportunity came along I thought it sounded hugely interesting and went for it,” explains Mullarkey.

What is the purpose of RoSPA?

RoSPA’s mission is to save lives and reduce injuries. Every year approximately 14,000 people die and many more are injured in preventable accidents at work, at home, during leisure or on the road. This causes untold suffering to their colleagues, families and friends. It’s especially bad when children are involved – it’s impossible for a parent to ever get over losing a child. So, our job is to try and reduce this suffering by raising awareness of common causes of accidents and hopefully therefore preventing them.

What’s the history of RoSPA?

RoSPA is a charity with a history stretching back to 1916 when its earliest precursor was formed in response to a major increase in traffic accidents and to help prevent injuries that were occurring because of restricted street lighting during the First World War. Since then we have saved thousands of lives throughout the world and been responsible for a huge range of highly successful campaigns that the world now takes for granted.

Which of RoSPA’s campaigns stand out as being most successful?

There are lots but a few of the more memorable ones include encouraging people to walk towards on-coming traffic; making it a legal requirement to wear seatbelts in cars; making it mandatory for domestic appliances to be sold with fitted plugs and working to reduce occupational road risk.

What campaigns are you currently working on?

We are regularly working on more than 100 campaigns but some can take years to come to fruition. We are, for example, working to improve accident data, highlight the deaths caused by window blind cords and reduce road deaths by introducing daylight saving, amongst other campaigns.

How can you do that?

It’s all about informing and educating people. People talk about 'common sense' but to be ‘common’, knowledge has to be imparted regularly and consistently. We believe that life should be ‘as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible’ and that means that people need to be armed with the information to make their own decisions, for the most part. In other areas, prescription works best and legislation is sometimes needed.

Why do you believe that?

At RoSPA, we are committed topreventing accidents, but in this we always seek to strike the right balance between prescription and individual choice. A quest for “absolute safety” in all areas of life is not feasible and would come at a cost to freedom. Weighing up a particular risk against the potential intervention to reduce it is one way of striking this balance, as is considering the effect of risk-taking on other people. This means that unless risks are intolerable, good accident prevention is about enabling them to be managed safely, rather than banning activities altogether.

How do you decide what workplace campaigns to pursue?

We look at all types of workplace accidents and if we can find a way to reduce the chances of something happening, then we do whatever we can to make a difference. How do you go about encouraging the Government to change or introduce workplace legislation? We work with employers and various industry trade bodies to identify accidents and ways that they can be prevented and then liaise closely with various people in parliament who we have established good relationships with. Often it’s a case of lobbying and trying to persuade the right people to listen. It can be a very long process and you have to be patient.

How else do you help workplaces?

Every year in the UK, approximately 300 workers and members of the public are killed in workplace accidents and there are more than 600 deaths in work-related road accidents. Plus, there are about 12,000 early deaths from exposure to hazardous substances and more than 28 million working days are lost to accidents and ill health. Our job is to reduce these figures wherever possible and we work closely with workplaces and also have a corporate membership scheme that helps to achieve this.

What benefits do corporate members enjoy?

Firstly, it’s a great way for employers to demonstrate their commitment to safety and they receive certificates and other branded materials to display in their premises. Members can also call our help lines free of charge with almost any safety related query; they receive newsletters and relevant journals and they receive discounts on all types of safety services, including training.

What sort of training do you offer?

We offer a huge range of training courses that are extremely popular and include everything from manual handling through to driving courses. All our courses are specifically designed to appeal to everyone within an organisation and we also offer more specialist courses that are tailored towards health and safety personnel and facilities managers.

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