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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Now Elf 'n Safety zealots warn: Beware low-flying GEESE

By Jonathan Petre

Beware: People taking part in a keep-fit class have been warned to be careful of low flying geese

A keep-fit class in a local park is not an activity most would consider fraught with danger.

While participants may occasionally suffer minor injuries such as a muscle strain or a twisted ankle, health and safety zealots have identified a previously undiscovered danger – low-flying geese.

A fitness instructor was warned of the airborne peril after being approached to run exercise classes for office workers in a leafy part of West London. Before being allowed to organise the workout sessions, the instructor was asked to provide a list of potential hazards at Chiswick Business Park, which has attractive landscaped gardens centred around a lake.

After struggling to think of any dangers posed at the location, the woman received a form from the park’s own health and safety team highlighting the supposed risk of injuries caused by a ‘collision’ with wildlife. The form stated: ‘Instructors are instructed to stay clear of wildlife (eg low-flying geese)’.

One of the keep-fit participants said they were most surprised when told about the potential risk to their health.

‘When I heard about it, I thought it must be a joke,’ said a class member, who asked not to be identified. To be spending time deliberating whether a group of adults running on the spot are in serious danger from airborne geese does seem to be taking health and safety just a little too far.’

The assessment form also warned of the dangers of trees, lampposts and benches.

Instructors were told to ‘avoid trees with low-hanging branches’ and to keep clear of such areas completely ‘during low light conditions’.

They were also urged to ‘brief clients’ on the safe use of ‘park furniture’ and to ‘avoid all water features, or if moving past, to slow down and inform clients to avoid the water feature’.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said it did not have any

records of anyone attending hospital accident and emergency departments as a result of injuries caused by low-flying geese.

A spokesman said that accidents involving ducks or geese tended to occur when people tripped or slipped over while feeding them. However, she said that several thousands of ¬people were injured every year after bumping into a tree or branch.

RoSPA occupational safety adviser Roger Bibbings criticised risk assessments that focused on trivial rather than real safety issues because they undermined the whole system.

Mr Bibbings said: ‘Part of the problem is that risk assessments can turn into a tick-box exercise in which ¬people include every conceivable risk and every conceivable hazard they can imagine. It doesn’t help anybody. When you get people going over the top on health and safety, it brings the whole system into disrepute.

‘There has to be a sense of priority and proportion.’

A spokeswoman for Chiswick Park Enjoy-Work, which runs the private park for about a dozen businesses, said all event operators had to provide ‘relevant’ risk assessments.

She said that firms normally drew up their own assessments based on an inspection.

But she confirmed that Enjoy-Work had itself drawn up the assessment referring to low-flying geese for one instructor because she was struggling to complete a form.

The spokeswoman said that the company had included a number of potential hazards that other operators running similar fitness classes had mentioned.

She added: ‘I think it is a case that this issue was raised, it was of concern, and we like to look after the wildlife here and make sure it is safe. We do have a large lake on the site which is home to a lot of wildlife including ducks, swans, herons and geese.’

Apart from fitness sessions, events held for the park’s 5,000 employees include fireworks displays and barbecues.



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