Officers takes the plunge

Health and safety officers have hit out at their killjoy image, just weeks after a festive tradition was cancelled because of increasing demands and regulations.

Jonathan Barnes

Health and safety officers have hit out at their killjoy image, just weeks after a festive tradition was cancelled because of increasing demands and regulations.

A group of four officers, calling themselves Health and Safety Gone Mad, dived into the freezing waters of a disused quarry in protest after their colleagues were blamed for putting an end to the annual Christmas Day swim in Southwold.

The swim, which was set up in 2003 and has raised more than �17,000 for local charities, was cancelled at the beginning of December because the organisers were left facing too many rules and regulations.

Now Roger Garbett, 49, and three colleagues from the Forest of Dean District Council in Gloucestershire have dived into a quarry at Tidenham, near Chepstow, to show that health and safety rules are not put in place to spoil the nation's fun.

By day Mr Garbett, Keith Leslie, Haydn Brookes and Rhys Thomas prosecute breaches in the law which cost lives, but in their spare time they indulge in bog snorkelling, diving, chariot racing and are even planning an Arctic expedition.

Most Read

Mr Garbutt, the council's group manager for environmental services, said: “With a recent newspaper report highlighting the fact that a Christmas Day charity swim in the North Sea had to be cancelled due to the cost of public liability insurance, police and a lifeboat and a lack of lifeguards, we hope to show people that health and safety should not deter them from having fun and getting involved.”

The Southwold swim was established in 2003 by locals Dudley and Marion Clarke and town mayor Teresa Baggot and her husband Derek.

As the swim became increasingly popular - attracting 130 swimmers in 2007 - they found it was too much for them to take on. In August last year, Marie Curie Cancer Care's fundraisers said they were keen to take over the organisation of the popular event, but the charity was also forced to pull out because of health and safety rules.

Mr Garbutt said: “Too often health and safety is used as a reason for inaction, rather than doing things sensibly. We believe that risk management should be about practical steps to protect people from real harm and suffering - not bureaucratic back-covering. It's all about knowing your capabilities and taking responsibility for your own life.”

Former organiser Mr Clarke said: “By the time we decided the swim was becoming too much, the health and safety regulations were increasing all the time - we were told we would have to put our insurance up from �5m to �10m and take on lifeguards as well.

“The local council couldn't have been any more helpful or done anything else for us. We realise that everyone has to abide by the same rules and it just got too much for us to keep up with.”