Wednesday, 26 October 2011

St Paul's Cathedral: analysis of Health and Safety issues

David Allen Green has published a detailed and lucid analysis of the situation at the New Statesman.

Read it in full at Closing the doors at St Paul’s Cathedral.

How seriously is the Cathedral taking health and safety concerns?

…The worrying refusal by the Cathedral to share the details of its supposed health and safety concerns with the protesters after Wednesday would seem to undermine the sincerity of its reliance on those concerns to close the Cathedral. Whatever one’s views as to the merits of the protesters, there can be no good reason for these details not to be shared, especially as it is claimed that the health and safety concerns are so serious as to mean that the Cathedral should be closed down completely.

This is a particularly depressing notion, given the Dean said expressly that the decision was taken “because of the legal requirements placed upon us by fire, health and safety issues”. So I asked the Cathedral for a full description of these health and safety issues, and this list was provided in response:

  • Presence of unknown quantities of flammable liquids.
  • Smoking/drinking within the tented areas.
  • Potential gas safety within the catering facility.
  • Compromised free fire exits, usually open now closed but manned.
  • Slips, trips and falls exacerbated at night with cover of darkness.
  • Due to the darkness issues on North side, use of naked flame lighting.
  • Sleeping risk within the tented area, if fire should break out.
  • Public heath issues
    a Sanitation
    b Food hygiene
    c Rodent/pest issue
  • The issues of rope/guy-lines attached to trees, bollards, lamp standards possibly causing injury to face/neck/upper limbs and trips on low level guy-lines.
  • VIP security due to camp protest.
  • All of the above are representative of the possible injury to life and limb.

This prompts an obvious question, and so I asked the Cathedral what it was actually doing now to manage these risks, other than closing the Cathedral. What had it done since the closure, if it thought these risks were serious? But the Cathedral was not able to say.

I asked who compiled this list of issues. The vague response was “health and safety advisers”. Who were these advisers? The Cathedral would not say. What are their qualifications and expertise? The Cathedral would not say. Are they external or internal? The Cathedral would not say…

And there is a great deal more, including a very full response by the protesters. Read it all.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 1:18pm BST | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England

Thank you for this.
IMHO as an ex-H&S official: none of these would seem to compromise the H&S of St Paul's.
They may compromise the H&S of the camp but as the H&S officials have no problems with the latter then I would suggest that these are spurious issues.
If other *businesses* like Starbucks can stay open then a *business* like St Paul's can remain open too.

"Slips, trips and falls exacerbated at night with cover of darkness."
So a problem at night when the Church would be closed for business anyway; becomes a reason to close the Church during the day? Any wandering drunk can trip or slip. Protest or no. Following this logic either St Paul's must maintain a security force 24/7 to escort drunks from the precincts. Or forever remain closed.
Sorry but: "No" I take serious issue with all of these except, possibly: "VIP security due to camp protest."
Because only important people count.
"Blessed are the Meek..."

Posted by: brobof on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 2:16pm BST

If this whole matter didn't bear the imprimatur of Giles Fraser then I too would be sceptical of the claims made in the Dean's open letter.
It is possible the Dean and Chapter have had bad advice, indeed it is beginning to look increasingly likely that they have. It might be said that the Dean and Chapter have done all they reasonably can to press the protesters to leave, that they have a duty to open and that they might now do that "lawfully".

I am sure that they will find expensive experts to say that they are acting "lawfully" and that with the erection of a steel barrier or two all reasonable care has been taken - they might invite their insurers to give their imprimatur.

But they must find a way to open.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 4:40pm BST

From the Guardian website:-
The London Fire Brigade (LFB) said it had not advised the authorities at St Paul's to close the cathedral for fire safety reasons, saying it was satisfied that there were "no fire safety concerns with the camp itself".

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 6:09pm BST

It's just been annouced by the Dean that the Cathedral 'could' reopen on Friday. If this is because the protesters have relocated themselves then why, oh why couldn't this have been negotiated a week ago and the Cathedral's PR disaster avoided? Either the Cathedral has had some very duff advice which they have swallowed whole or there are some dinosaurs on the Chapter who ought to resign.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 6:13pm BST

its a ballsed up retraction of a seemingly dishonest and silly tactic but it could've been so much worse.

The idea of police evicting the campers off the steps would've been a disaster. I, for one, would've been down there in a shot to be one more body in the way...

Posted by: midlandsone on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 9:32pm BST

Why is the Bishop claiming the right to tell the protestors what's best for their cause? People in positions of privilege and power often assume the right to paternalistically tell other people "what would be best" for them to do. First his chapter closed the cathedral, garnering sympathy, because of non-specific 'health and safety' concerns. So the Occupy LSX members (who had already made changes in liaison with fire and safety officers) asked the Cathedral to state the specific things that needed addressing. For days this request for honest and open dialogue to sort out the concerns was ignored, calling into question whether the stated and generalised concerns were the real issue or simply a front for other reasons why the protestors should be cleared.

It was extraordinary that the Cathedral authorities were silent for so long, on a simple and honest request for clarification. Especially when people's health and safety were being invoked.

Then, as the loss of profits bit, and the Dean started to realise that he was being 'called' on these 'Health and Safety' issues - because the protestors were being constructive and reasonable, and the press could see they were... he announced that, in fact, Health and Safety was NOT an insurmountable problem after all, largely because of the protestors' co-operation and reasonableness.

But on the very same day that the Cathedral backed down, in the face of this co-operation, the Bishop of London announced that the protestors should leave - no longer on the grounds of health and safety, but because he wanted them to leave anyway. So Health and Safety was never the main reason.


Posted by: Susannah on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 10:16pm BST


So in interpreting the Bishop's motives and views, one has to fall back on this paternalistic idea that "they should go" because he - the bishop - disagrees with them staying. His view can't really be isolated from the contexts of the Cathedral: its reliance on donations from a whole string of banks and corporates; its embeddedness in the whole City setting; and its focus on raising money through aesthetics, and being a tourist attraction, and charging ordinary people to come into church, and a whole business and management ethos that means, when confronted with the choice between upsetting your wealthy donors (and the City establishment generally) or distancing yourself from people peacefully protesting about the greed which ordinary people have had to pay for in cuts and the haemorrhaging of national wealth which should have really been for the people as a whole... he has created the appearance of coming down on the side of the wealthy and privileged establishment.


Posted by: Susannah on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 10:18pm BST


He does not have consensus about this process of resort to law so the protestors can be forcibly evicted. His own Cathedral canon, the Rev Giles Fraser, who originally asked the police to move on, because he *respects* the right to peaceful protest, has said he will resign if the Church's legal action results in force to clear the area.

Many reasonable people, arguably the majority of the nation, agree with this camp, so the Bishop's action is highly political. That includes many in his own denomination, whose children will be effected by the debts piled up by banks for a generation.

There is the abiding sense that to the Bishop of London, the protestors are bringing down the tone of the neighbourhood, but what he doesn't seem to see, in taking sides, is that actually the neighbourhood of the City itself has harboured 'banksters' who have forfeited people's prospects and value, through reckless casino banking and corporate greed and gambling on the markets. It is not the campers who have lowered the tone of the neighbourhood, or the tone of the whole country.

I help out in the first aid tent 3 evenings a week. It is the least I can do, to support a reasonable, peaceful protest which is making the point that ordinary people are suffering - and will continue to suffer - for a minority's greed and a form of capitalism that has run amok.

Posted by: Susannah on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 10:23pm BST

Martin Reynolds,

I say this as a friend who has seen many heroes come, fall and go - don't place any faith in "imprimaturs" or the people who give them. Giles Fraser is not a good man . . . because none are, according to the words we have recorded from Christ. He is fallible, self-interested, ignorant, just like the rest of us.

I'm so very concerned that we on the progressive/liberal side are so starved for spokespeople that we make near-messiahs out of anyone who speaks for us! Look at what we - including me! - have expected of President Obama.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 27 October 2011 at 4:53am BST

The big problem I see is not the situation, but the response to it. If the cathedral chapter had simply responded with a definite answer about where their concerns came from, had admitted they'd been poorly-advised, or even had simply stated "Look, we need the tourist money and fear you're keeping them away," that would have been fine.

Am I being "fair" in placing it all on the cathedral? Perhaps not. Life's not fair, as we all know, but neither is following Christ in an imperfect world. If bishops and deans and such constantly decry the loss of their moral authority, how do they expect to regain it by behaving like a common landlord, even when legally-entitled? The CofE, particularly, claims a heritage and right of governmental/societal influence and participation - shouldn't they expect to be held to a higher ideal than a householder complaining about squatters? If they are going to claim a position of leadership, how is that helped by behaving just like everyone else, or, worse, like every out-of-touch, well-off person who feel threatened by "the rabble?" Their "rights" in this are simply not relevant, as, when one takes up the Cross, one hands over a lot of entitlement to the rights the world gives, while taking up the particular Cross of ordination pretty much gives away all those rights.

I haven't even gotten into the subjective areas of Christian moral responsibility in a tradition that speaks of God's opting specially for the poor!

It's seen as hypocrisy because *it is*.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 27 October 2011 at 4:56am BST

Well, I never thought that the one to resign would be Giles. The dinosaurs are left in charge.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Thursday, 27 October 2011 at 8:24am BST

Kudos to Susannah

Posted by: Counterlight on Thursday, 27 October 2011 at 2:12pm BST

I'm impressed with Giles Fraser's act. Resigning from a position of importance, as he has, is very brave and a sacrificial act. May it bear fruit for him in this world as well as the next!

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 28 October 2011 at 4:24am BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.