Rant 94: Health & Safety in the arts
Fiona Curran, An Accident Looking For Somewhere to Happen, 2012
Tired of spending more time on risk assessments than on your work? Maru Rojas is and asks what's wrong with letting artists use their common sense?
Since when did arts practice – in a community setting above all, but also when setting up exhibitions, working in the public space etc. – become a high-risk activity? By this I mean, why is it necessary to have such stringent health and safety regulations for the practice of art, to the point where at least three forms are needed for any project?
DBS (formerly known as CRB), risk assessments, PAT tests, PPLs. Artists are bombarded with a long list of acronyms and forms to fill out if they expect to work with the public, in a public space or even with an audience.
From previous experience working in other countries and having just done a ten-day residency in Denmark in public spaces, without the need to fill out endless forms, contact local agencies or – God forbid – get insurance, I think this must be a particularly British pastime. And yet Denmark does not have a reputation for being an unsafe or risk-taking country.
What’s the need for such stringency in health and safety regulations in the UK? I’m certainly not advocating lawlessness or putting people at risk, but I believe that this overtly bureaucratic and politicised state of affairs has somehow undervalued the efficacy and relevance of a natural human quality: common sense.
I’m all about the resurgence of common sense. Dozens of times I have read or written risk assessment forms where the risk posed is something like this: during the workshop, the children may leave bags on the floor and could trip. The artist must make sure no bags are left on the floor to avoid tripping. Level of
I was once stopped in the middle of an art workshop because I was using a hairdryer that hadn’t been PAT tested – by the way, portable appliances DON’T have to be PAT tested by law. A visual inspection by the Health & Safety inspector and the (common sense) knowledge that hairdryers switch off when they’re too hot would have satisfied anyone that the workshop was not a risk. Common sense however, did not prevail.
I was put off by the experience and will seriously consider whether or not I lead these kinds of workshops again. Why has the UK become such a risk-averse place? As socially engaged art practices become more commonplace, I call for their de-regulation of such and the reinstatement of common sense.
Contributed by Maru Rojas, September 2013
Maru Rojas is an artist, writer and facilitator from Mexico currently based in London. She has recently finished an MFA Art Writing course at Goldsmiths. Maru has exhibited her work in the UK, the US and Mexico and her writing has been published in A-N magazine and other independent publications in the UK.
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