You’ve got to admire Mary Pickles. The 87-year-old from Burnley has been regularly braving the biting east Lancashire winds to get out and help the town’s late night revellers. Volunteering as a street pastor as part of a scheme organised by local churches, the teetotal former postmistress has been clearing broken glass from the streets, handing-out flip-flops to shoeless girls forced off their high-heels and escorting inebriated youngsters a quarter of her age to a taxi.

One of the reasons Mary’s story caught my eye is that I’d recently looked into street pastors in another part of the country being told they shouldn’t be clearing up broken glass for ‘health and safety reasons’. On closer inspection this was about a fear of being sued if somebody fell and cut themselves on glass that had not been swept up. Of course, there are no health and safety rules banning people from doing this. When I speak to people in the insurance industry they tell me that if you are actively making things better rather than making a situation worse, it is going to be difficult for someone to successfully bring a case against you.

People like Mary and the other street pastors are at one end of the scale – they can’t do enough for their neighbours and local community. At the other end we have those who really can’t be bothered and will seize on any excuse not to get involved, including health and safety. Over the coming days and weeks, as winter gets into its stride and the snows come, we’re going to have a big test of our community-spiritedness across the country. How many of us will be clearing a path for the postman, or doing our neighbours’ drives when we do our own?

The Government published the Snow Code  a couple of years ago to reassure people that they need not be put off clearing paths because they’re afraid someone will get injured. It said: “Don’t believe the myths – it’s unlikely you’ll be sued or held legally responsible for any injuries if you have cleared the path carefully.”

It is important that we keep reminding people that health and safety is not a barrier to doing the neighbourly thing. We’re not all Mary Pickles, but everyone can do their bit. Even small efforts can make a big difference.

This article was taken from Judith Hackett’s blog on the HSE website.

For more information about Street Pastors, please see their website.