‘Health and safety gone mad’ is squeezing all of the joy out of life like a boa constrictor asphyxiating a rabbit.
We’ve compiled a list of 2016’s daftest health and safety myths for your entertainment (taken from the HSE’s mythbusting challenge panel – www.hse.gov.uk/myth/myth-busting/index.htm). These daft bans and bizarre procedures give health and safety a bad name by sensationalising trivial risks and undermining sensible risk management, though there’s no denying that they can make us laugh, or perhaps just leave us feeling bewildered, like that rabbit.
So, with an appropriate warning to avoid cotton wool and mollycoddling when managing health and safety, on with my “favourite” most ridiculous health and safety myths…
Family told by undertaker that shoes are not allowed on deceased’s body for funeral
Issue – Family arranging a funeral told by undertaker that the deceased would not be allowed to wear shoes as it was against health and safety regulations.
Panel opinion – Health and safety at work legislation does not stop undertakers enclosing shoes in coffins. Depending upon whether the deceased is to be buried or cremated after the funeral, there may be other reasons for not allowing shoes but this should have been explained properly to the enquirer. It is certainly not a health and safety matter.
Council bans Refuse collection workers from wearing Christmas hats
Issue – Refuse collection workers in Colchester have been banned from wearing Christmas hats or anything Christmassy on the grounds of health and safety. The council have stated drivers and other road users could be distracted.
Panel opinion – There is no health and safety legislation that prevents refuse collectors wearing Santa hats or entering the festive spirit with other modest decorations. Excessive displays which might impede the driver’s vision or cause a distraction are another matter, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Being sensible about health and safety can still allow everyone to have some fun too!
Children banned from waiting in car at Recycling centre
Issue – A recycling centre manager requested that children be removed from their parent’s car and taken outside the centre to wait as they are not allowed on site for health and safety reasons.
Panel opinion – There is specific industry guidance which clearly states that “children should stay in the car” at civic amenity sites, so this is a badly misinformed myth. It is also a dangerous myth, in that the “health and safety” excuse used could have led to a greater risk to the children. Managers at waste and recycling sites should know their industry standards much better than this.
Cafe bans babies’ dummies
Issue – A mum had to leave a cafe as the manager banned the use of dummies for young children and babies for health and safety reasons.
Panel opinion – Health and safety at work legislation does not stop babies using dummies in cafes. This appears to be the cafe’s company policy which according to the press article they relate to strict food hygiene guidelines. The cafe should clearly explain the reason behind their policy rather than dumbing down the issue and blaming health and safety.
Husband not allowed to stand up during his wife’s pregnancy scan for health and safety reasons
Issue – During his wife’s pregnancy scan at hospital a husband stood to pick up his 20 month old son who was misbehaving. Upon standing he was told that due to health and safety he was not allowed to stand up during the examination.
Panel opinion – Pregnancy scans need to be conducted carefully to check on the development of the foetus. Partners moving around during the scan may be distracting to the sonographer and small children could injure themselves or others if they are roaming free with medical equipment all around them. However, it is misleading to suggest that partners can’t stand up or siblings need to be controlled under health and safety legislation. Asking partners to remain seated when appropriate or controlling young children when necessary in these circumstances is generally a matter of common sense. A simple briefing before the procedure would explain this and help to avoid any misunderstanding.
Supermarket cafe refused to sell customer a packet of untoasted fruit bread
Issue – Supermarket cafe refused to sell customer a packet of fruit bread for health and safety reasons as he didn’t want it toasted before taking it home.
Panel opinion – There is nothing in health and safety at work legislation that prevents the sale of fruit bread nor should there have been a food labelling issue here. It is a pity that a “health and safety” excuse was used to refuse such a simple request. This appears to be a case of poor staff training resulting in a very disappointed customer.
Nightclub refused to serve salt and lemon with Tequila shots
Issue – Bar manager refused to serve salt and lemon with Tequila shots to customers in a nightclub due to health and safety.
Panel opinion – There is no workplace health and safety legislation that prohibits the service of salt and lemon with tequila. This looks like a case of quoting an easy excuse – possibly to cover up poor customer service. The bar should simply serve the drink in the traditional way as requested, and not misuse health and safety legislation in this way.
Banned from using antibacterial wipes
Issue – An employee was advised that using antibacterial wipes to clean inside vehicles could lead to the development of a ‘superbug’.
Panel opinion – Superbugs are a real cause for concern for everyone, but the use of chemical disinfectants in antibacterial wipes is not going to make the situation worse when used correctly. The advice on the use of antibacterial wipes is to use one wipe per surface and then discard to avoid potentially spreading any bacteria to other surfaces. They are effective for the purpose being proposed, and seem like a sensible choice.
Library will not let users plug their laptops into power sockets for health and safety reasons
Issue – A Council run library will not let users plug their laptops into electrical outlets because of a risk of tripping or in case of faulty laptop charger plugs.
Panel opinion – The council and library seem to have got their wires well and truly crossed in this case as both the potential problems appear to have been well under control. Restricting the charging of the laptop can’t be justified on health and safety grounds in these circumstances.
No repeat prescription requests by telephone
Issue – A GP surgery advised patients that it would no longer take repeat prescription requests over the telephone due to health and safety reasons.
Panel opinion – Health and safety regulation does not prevent telephone prescription. GP surgeries have discretion as to whether they offer this service. This surgery has said it does not do so because of a risk that incorrect medication and/or dosages may be prescribed. Their recorded message says this is ‘due to health and safety reasons’ but it would have been more accurate and helpful to have explained this policy in terms of patient safety.
How to avoid making ridiculous health and safety excuses
Health and safety can be complex and it’s not always easy to tell what the right solution to a problem might be. Here’s a bit of advice on how to avoid daft bans, poor excuses and joining the list of health and safety myths in 2017:
- If your knowledge of health and safety is lacking, then seek competent advice, whether it be from your competent person or an external source.
- Make sure your company’s health and safety policies and procedures are up to date and compliant with the latest legislation.
- Review your risk assessments regularly and make changes where necessary.
- Ensure your employees are provided with appropriate training.
- Communicate your policies, procedures and risk assessments to everyone in your workplace.
- Use appropriate signage in the workplace.
- Avoid using health and safety as an excuse if it’s unwarranted. It can damage your reputation, health and safety culture, and lead to unnecessary complaints.
- Use common sense.
If you have any questions about health and safety, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.
Have a good day!