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Bunting, swords and mortarboards
Posted by David Cant on July 18, 2015

Bunting, swords and mortarboards

shocked man reading paperWhere May seems to be the month where British people lose their inhibitions to go chasing cheese and hefting woolsacks, July seems to be the month in which the killjoys get their own back. Recent headlines have been filled with unusual tales of health and safety news – here are three of our favourites.

The marketplace bunting of Inverurie

As part of their annual Summer marketplace initiative, the Inverurie4U independent traders group added a dash of colour to the town’s market square using some brightly coloured bunting. However a few days later they were ordered to remove the tiny flags on health and safety grounds.

But, although this sounds like another elf n’ safety overreaction, a look at the council’s ruling suggests that maybe there was a good reason for the request. In their letter, Aberdeenshire Council referred to an incident last year where a truck became tangled in the bunting, bringing down a streetlamp.

That said, with a proper risk assessment, and plans in place to avoid a repeat incident this year, there seems little reason to demand a total removal of the bunting.

The swords of the Orange Order

A common sight on the streets of Northern Ireland during the marching season, Orangemen parade with banners and swords. As an extremely contentious event, organisers were keen to avoid a repeat of the 2013 marches which saw marchers, police and bystanders involved in scuffles.

As a result, many lodges arranged for their members to attend courses on how to carry ceremonial swords safely. By taking a proactive approach to raising standards, the Orangemen have been able to avoid an outright ban on their swords as they march.

The Mortarboards of Birmingham

Perhaps the most bizarre story of the week comes from our home town however. The University of Birmingham has apparently banned students from participating in the traditional celebration of mortarboard-throwing at their graduation ceremony.

The ban was unequivocal – ‘Throwing of caps is not permitted, due to health and safety.’ The message went on to say that graduates flouting the rule would be ejected from the ceremony.

Initially many assumed the ban applied to all graduates at all ceremonies taking place across the campus, but the University later clarified matters, claiming that the ban only applies to a specific event for Classics students because it takes place in a ‘restricted space’. They did however restate the belief that flying mortarboards may present significant risk of injuries to attendees.

Without knowing the specifics of the venue it is hard to know whether authorities are overreacting, but the obvious solution would be to arrange an ‘official’ photo opportunity at another venue where graduates would be free to toss their mortarboards as much as they like. Assuming students are happy to accept responsibility for the unlikely event of incurring a mortarboard-related injury.

Crazy, but maybe not as crazy as they seem

All three of these stories have attracted widespread derision and condemnation in the mass media, but in each there actually appears to be an element of common sense – key to successful health and safety assessments. With the exception of the University of Birmingham there is a track record of hazards causing injury, making the proposed changes perfectly reasonable.

So over to you – what is the worst example of an elf n’ safety headline that masked a genuine problem that needed to be addressed?


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

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