Game, set and match to the 'elf'n'safety brigade

The Health and Safety Executive has got its own back on critics, accusing Wimbledon of over-reacting when it closed Murray Mount. Ouch.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 22 Jun 2011
It’s one thing when the ‘elf’n’safety police castigate you for not taking enough precautions – but when it writes to say you’ve gone too far, you should worry. That’s exactly what’s happened to the Lawn Tennis Association and the All England Club yesterday, though: they received a strongly-worded letter from Health and Safety Executive boss Judith Hackett, who said by switching off the screen showing action from Centre Court to spectators on Murray Mount, they had over-stepped the mark. Has the world turned upside-down?

To rewind a bit, the Wimbledon organisers decided to turn off the giant screen facing Murray Mount when it started raining heavily, because they were worried spectators would slip and hurt themselves. But Hackett’s letter made it clear the HSA is tired of being made a scapegoat. ‘There is nothing in health and safety legislation which prohibits the continued broadcasting of Centre Court action to the crowds on the hill,’ she wrote. ‘Health and safety excuses are becoming as much a feature of the British sporting calendar as the rain…. people have been walking up and down wet grassy slopes for years without catastrophic consequences.’ Ouch.

It’s a good story, but it does make a point. To be fair to the Wimbledon organisers, the concern was that people would slip on the grass, hurt themselves and then sue the club for their injuries. But Hackett pointed out that if they were worried about being sued, it should have been made clear that the decision was made ‘on insurance grounds’, rather than health and safety. (More liberal than expected, then, but still reassuringly pedantic…). Take note.

Pleasingly, though, it sounds like this might not be the last we hear of Hackett and her razor-sharp tongue (or, er, pen). ‘You will understand that, while we can do nothing about the weather, we will not let excuses pass unchallenged,’ she wrote. So the health and safety brigade is on the prowl – but at least their day-glo jackets will make them nice and visible…

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