They may have a reputation for banning conkers and “box ticking”, but Preston’s dedicated health and safety team work tirelessly to avert disasters - and save lives.
Jonathan Cruickshank, the city council’s senior environmental health officer, has investigated major incidents including a terrifying accident in a shop lift, and a restaurant branded a “death trap”.
He was called to investigate after a mum and her baby were moments from being crushed in a lift in JD Sports at Deepdale Retail Park, and also discovered the extent of the bottled gas danger in the city’s former China House restaurant.
“We always say you have a right to go home from work in the same health you arrived at work,” he says.
Mr Cruickshank has led investigations and helped secure prosecutions into health and safety breaches across the city, including the death of dad-of-one Gary Jackson, who was killed when an HGV tyre he was fitting exploded at Red Scar Tyres.
But he said the role of health and safety experts had become trivialised in the eyes of some, but his team work to educate businesses in keeping safe.
He said: “We’ve been blighted by the ‘bonkers conkers’ brigade, and some of it has come from the ‘no win no fee’ ambulance chasers who seem to cause health and safety to be trivialised.
“We also have to contend with people who are not educated and not competent in health and safety, suggesting people shouldn’t be allowed to do things.
“People seem to make rules up and say it’s a health and safety issue, and people use health and safety as an excuse.
“We find it all the time that people’s reaction is they think it’s a box-ticking exercise and it’s trivialised by some of the rules people make up, when in fact, when you get down to it, health and safety is about managing a risk in a proportionate way.
“You wouldn’t expect someone to spend millions of pounds guarding against a minor risk like paper cuts.”
Mr Cruickshank and his team work both reactively and proactively to avert problems in Preston.
Their current focus is on gas safety, after immediate action had to be taken in six different premises over the last three to four years.
Mr Cruickshank said some businesses were not having gas safety checks, and the team had found gas leaks or a lack of ventilation, which could lead to a build-up of carbon monoxide.
He added: “Asbestos is an on-going initiative, because there are still about 5,000 people nationally each year dying from asbestos-related illnesses. A lot of the new diagnoses are tradesmen, because the asbestos hasn’t been identified.”
Mr Cruickshank, who was praised by senior lawyers for the statement he submitted about JD Sports, said it was always vital to visit a site of an accident as soon as possible to see if equipment was still in use.
He said: “We had a report once that a member of staff had received an electric shock from a glass washer.
“We went down straight away after a report from police, we said is the glass wash still working and were told yes.
“As soon as we went in, it was obvious the button was all smashed and missing on the front, so she had stuck her finger in the hole.”