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Written by
on 22 October 2013


Although the health and safety laws in the UK mean that our workplace and public environments today are safer than they have ever been, many people have the impression that the ‘Nanny State’ can take things a bit too far in some cases.

The media often has stories that are based on health and safety rulings that seem to go against common sense and make people’s lives difficult or restricted in ways that they really don’t need to be. However when you actually look into some of these stories, the facts can be quite different.

In the workplace, the strict rules and regulations that employers now have to abide by have had a dramatic effect on employees’ health over a period of many years. With specialised health and safety equipment suppliers providing a wide range of clothing and materials which protect against injury from everyday and more specialised hazards, today’s working environments are controlled and supervised in the best ways possible.

Common Health and Safety Myths Busted

Even so, the stories of overzealous jobsworths continue and there is even a government service which has been set up for the public to report situations which they think H&S rules are being used in the wrong way. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published a list of what it calls “blatant examples” of firms using health and safety as an excuse to refuse service, such as cafes refusing to heat up baby food, a golf course banning golf buggies and an airline refusing a passenger a blanket.

In spite of this, there are many common health and safety stories that are in fact myths, so here is a selection that the HSE has busted:

1. Children banned from playing conkers unless they wear goggles

Although the story has a basis in fact as one well-meaning head teacher did decide that children in his school should wear safety goggles to play conkers, there was no general ruling or universal adoption of this rule. Making children wear goggles or even padded gloves for a game that has been played for centuries without causing mass panic of injuries seems unnecessary to most people and realistically the risk from playing conkers is incredibly low.

If anything, it is a disciplinary matter for individual schools rather than a health and safety concern.

2. Office workers banned from putting up Christmas decorations

Most organisations including local councils and other public bodies celebrate the spirit of Christmas without a fuss and in general it is down to individual groups of office staff to decide how they decorate their working environment, if at all.

As with most other things, common sense means that suitable step ladders should be used where needed and there shouldn’t be trailing hazards that might cause someone to trip over. However, all of these things are covered by the usual day to day health and safety procedures so there aren’t any special seasonal extras that come into force each Christmas.

3. Trapeze artists ordered to wear hard hats

Like most good modern myths, this story was widely reported at first and has since been repeated as gospel. Also in common with the other myths repeated here, it is of course nonsense with no basis in fact whatsoever.

Hard hats are a piece of safety equipment that has many functional uses and in certain situations can provide excellent protection against falling debris from above. It isn’t an item of protective clothing that has any place in a trapeze act.

4. Pin the tail on the donkey games banned

The traditional game ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ has been a feature of children’s parties the world over for many years and the idea that it suddenly fell under the auspices of health and safety regulations was sure to be one that raised eyebrows.

Of course, millions of children have been playing party games like this one for generations without reports of problems and a safety pin is a well named piece of kit. As with many of these types of stories sometimes the old adage of ‘who benefits?’ needs to be asked, and in this case perhaps it was a ploy of some kind.

5. Hanging baskets being banned in case of head injuries

Again, this one has a slight basis in fact as one UK town did briefly take down its hanging baskets in 2004 but the reason was because there were fears that old lamp posts might collapse under the weight. Even this was an overly-cautious reaction to a very low risk so the thought that the usual use of hanging baskets filled with plants which brighten up buildings and public spaces all over the country could be banned is just yet another ludicrous myth.

Unfortunately, because it is repeated so often many people believe stories like this and in effect this can negatively affect the way that the benefits of real health and safety measures have a positive impact on our everyday lives.

Post by our Guest Blogger:

About the author

David Cant is a 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. You can find him across social media on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.