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Written by
on 12 August 2013


If there’s one phrase in the world of health and safety which is certain to raise a few hackles it’s “‘elf and safety has gone mad”.

Fortunately health and safety has not gone mad. It’s very sane thank you. What is mad however is the sheer volume of companies and organisations trying to sneak policies and preferences in under the guise of health and safety.

Don’t fancy having young children running around your shop? Ban them on the grounds of health and safety. Don’t want visitors bringing their own food and drink because you’d rather they bought yours? Ban them on the grounds of health and safety.

Unfortunately it is just too easy for companies to introduce bizarre and ridiculous rules and policies, conveniently passing the blame on to ‘health and safety’. Until fairly recently there wasn’t a very easy way of challenging these silly rules, but since last year that all changed thanks to the introduction by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of their very own Myth Busters Challenge Panel.

This panel has one simple task: seek out suspicious rules and policies which blame health and safety, and expose them for what they really are. So far they have managed to expose over 200 businesses and organisations which have given health and safety a bad name. Here are a couple of examples of recent cases they have dealt with.

When ‘Do-It-Yourself’- Means ‘Don’t-Do-It-Yourself’

A keen DIY enthusiast visited a popular and well-known high street DIY store to buy some wood. When it came to getting into his car he realised the wood was a little too long to fit so asked the store if they could cut it down for him. They said no. He asked if he could use a saw to cut it down himself. They again said no. The store claimed that neither they nor the customer were allowed to carry out any such DIY due to health and safety rules.

The customer queried this with the HSE’s Myth Busters who confirmed that there were no such health and safety rule, and that poor customer service was to blame instead.

A Health And Safety Rule That’s No Yolk

When a customer visited the restaurant of a London department store for breakfast and requested a fried egg he was somewhat taken aback when staff told him that he couldn’t have his egg fried for health and safety reasons.

After reporting the incident to the Myth Busters it transpired that in another restaurant owned by the department store someone had once left a frying pan on the heat, resulting in a small fire. It was then decided to ban the frying of eggs.

This does rather seem a little short-sighted and wholly ineffectual, since it wasn’t the egg which caused the fire but a member of staff not following appropriate procedure. This was a clear case of a business policy being blamed on health and safety, a fact the department store later admitted.

If you discover any suspicious health and safety rules then you can easily report your concerns to the HSE’s Myth Buster Panel by filling in the form at You can also call our friendly, professional Health and Safety Advisors FREE on 0800 1488 677 to discuss any health and safety issues or concerns you have, or for clarification on rules, procedures or guidelines.

A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

  • Astutis says:

    You have to love some of the things that get blamed on ‘Elf & Safety’. A recent HSE Myth Buster was the ban of kettles in hotel bedrooms. If a hotel no longer wants to provide kettles in the rooms, that is fine but please do not point the finger at health and safety as a reason. If the hotel feel that they do not want to maximise their customer experience that is totally down to them.

  • Don Andrechek says:

    You have begun your article with the presumption that kids were alright to have them running around the shop. I disagree because it creates a big risk of injury. There are hazards within all shops and children do not understand the concept of hazard recognition. So to let kids run around the shop, be prepared to pay a big fine, or get on track.

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