How ‘health and safety’ imperils us all

Your editorial concerning the appalling death of Alison Hume (17 November) can be summarised as follows: if the firefighters had been properly trained, had conducted an appropriate risk assessment and had been properly led all would have been well.

It misses the fundamental point that firemen and women are employed to rescue members of the public from fire and other disasters. In carrying out their duties, they are inevitably exposed to risks and dangers.

The laws and regulations under which they operate must allow them to do their duty in all circumstances.

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If there are no penalties for excessive caution, but those who do their duty properly risk losing their jobs, the result is a fire service that fails in its very purpose – rescuing people.

In that case, the service becomes little more than another public-sector job creation exercise.

The same is sadly true of other police and public services, sometimes even of our armed forces.

The late Moshe Dayan very wisely said: “The Israeli army only punishes soldiers for doing too little, never for doing too much.”

We need laws that allow our firemen and women, our police and our armed forces to live by that very principle.

Otto Inglis

Inveralmond Grove

Edinburgh

With regard to the rigid adherence of safety rules. In September 1950, an inrush of surface peat trapped 129 coal miners underground at Knockshinnoch Castle colliery at New Cumnock.

Rescue attempts began from a nearby abandoned mine. First, a heavy concentration of methane required to be cleared. In advance of a fresh air base, around 60 men were helping rescue brigades by transporting equipment and material.

Two of HM Inspectors were underground all of this time and, with the percentage of gas in the air, they were duty bound to withdraw these men. They let work continue.

However, there was a failure to clear the gas. No industry had more health and safety rules than coal mining. Trapped miners would have to pass through the barrier of gas.

Before any equipment could be used underground it had to pass stringent safety checks. Salvus was a 30-minute duration breathing mask used by the fire services, never authorised for use in coal mining.

The decision was taken and 116 miners, each one wearing a Salvus, after being entombed for two and a half days, walked through the barrier. My brother Matthew was one of them. They lived and some are still alive today.

George Sanderson

Marchburn Drive

Penicuik