Great British Health & Safety Myths

Health & Safety

The HSE has published the results of a new survey which it says has highlighted some of the “bizarre and unnecessary” things small firms mistakenly do in order to comply with health and safety legislation, wasting time and money.

The research was based on a survey of 45 small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with interviewers asking a number of questions relating to their approach and beliefs concerning health and safety.

The study revealed the lengths some small firms mistakenly go to trying to comply with health and safety, with examples of the most absurd things employers had been advised to do including the following.

  • One business completed a risk assessment for using a tape measure.
  • Another introduced written guidelines for walking up stairs.
  • Around 11% believed that a qualified electrician must test electrical appliances, such as kettles and toasters, every year — described by HSE as “another persistent myth”.

In addition, 1 in 5 respondents (22%) surveyed believed they were not capable of managing health and safety themselves and needed to hire a specialist consultant.

Nearly a third of small businesses surveyed classed themselves as “hopeful-have-a-go’s” when it came to health and safety — aware they have to take some action but unsure where to start or if what they are doing is correct.

The HSE said the survey shows how myths about health and safety can cause unnecessary confusion.

HSE Myth Busters Challenge Panel

Battling persistent health and safety myths and over-compliance, the HSE is fighting fire with fire by using two of the oldest influencing techniques in the book — ridicule and humour. Many of the myths that have come before their Myth Busters Challenge Panel are amusing, but some illustrate a willingness to blame health and safety for unpopular business and commercial decisions.

Some examples from HSE’s archive:

  • A woman was refused a pint glass with a handle in certain pubs and hotels, being told such glasses were now illegal for health and safety reasons.
  • A man was told by a hotel chain that it was unable to serve burgers rare because of health and safety laws — something the panel was quick to deny.
  • Volunteers intending to use shredded paper in their school fête’s lucky dip stall were told by the school that shredded paper was not an option “for health and safety reasons”.
  • Guests in a hotel complained that the cot bed had not been made up — and were told this was because of “health and safety”. The panel said they were unaware of any cot bed regulations.
  • After eating a meal in a restaurant, a diner requested a toothpick but was told he could not have one on health and safety grounds. The panel reassured him: “There is no health and safety regulation which stops toothpicks being handed out in a restaurant… whether or not to provide toothpicks is about cost and customer service, not health and safety.”
  • A council emailed an instruction to remove a flag from the inside of one of their windows stating that it breached health & safety legislation. In fact it was the council’s own policies rather than legislation that led to the worker receiving the email.
  • A member of the public buying a pair of shoes refused a box that was offered but was subsequently told by the shop assistant that “their health and safety man says we have to make the customers have a box”. This was felt to be a decision made to reduce waste rather than any valid health and safety reason.
  • Employees told they cannot leave hand wash purchased by themselves in company toilets and also that they are not allowed to bring cleaning products into work. This was felt to be over the top considered that they were bought in a high street shop. The panel felt that this was an overzealous application of the COSHH Regulations as high street brand hand wash and cleaning products will not contain chemicals in sufficient quantity as to be harmful.
  • Employer looking to arrange a work experience placement was told that they must provide the school with a specific young persons risk assessment detailing the processes in place to reduce risk to young people. Although a widely held view, this is incorrect. For most workplaces it is sufficient for the organisers to ask a few questions about the arrangements in place and that the persons offering the placement are aware of any specific issues with the young person.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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