Health and safety 'excuse' for unpopular decisions

Spectators watching a match on the big screen at Wimbledon This summer's decision to turn off the big screen at Wimbledon's "Henman Hill" caused a row

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Councils and companies are using health and safety rules as an excuse to make "unpopular decisions" banning low-risk activities, a watchdog says.

The Health and Safety Executive has published a list of what it says were the 10 most "bizarre bans" on health and safety grounds over the past year.

They include bans on kite flying on a beach, sack races for children and pins used to secure commemorative poppies.

But experts have warned of many cases where risks are underappreciated.

The HSE said complying with health and safety regulations was often used as a "convenient excuse" for organisations to justify unnecessary decisions.

Among examples on its list were a school's decision to ban football games unless the ball was made of sponge, and a ban on street parties to mark the royal wedding in April.

'Undermining confidence'

The most high-profile case it cites was the decision by the Wimbledon tennis authorities to stop showing television coverage of a key game on a big screen on "Henman Hill" - a popular vantage point where crowds have congregated for years to watch matches.

Top 10 'bizarre bans'

  • Wimbledon's "Henman Hill" closed because it was wet
  • Dodgem cars bumping into each other at Butlins in Skegness
  • Royal wedding street parties
  • Removal of an unwanted TV from a pensioner's home for recycling
  • Carnivals with fancy dress parades
  • Kite flying on a popular tourist beach in east Yorkshire
  • Pupils playing on playground monkey bars in Oxfordshire
  • Using pins to secure commemorative poppies
  • School football games - unless the ball is made of sponge
  • Children taking part in a sack race on sports day

Source: Health and Safety Executive

The decision, taken because of concerns about safety conditions after hours of heavy rain and poor visibility, led to a row between the watchdog and organisers The All England Lawn Tennis Club.

The HSE also questioned the rules for dodgem rides after reports in April that Butlins had banned people bumping into each other at its Skegness holiday camp on health and safety grounds.

At the time, ministers cited the case as evidence that regulations were being wrongly applied, saying it had no basis under current laws and they were "disappointed" by the decision.

The HSE said such cases "started to undermine people's confidence in health and safety law and the work it does to protect people at work from serious risk".

While there were a clear set of laws regulating health and safety in the workplace, it said "what other people choose to see as health and safety is quite vague and ill-defined".

'Safe environment'

The All England Lawn Tennis Club said it had acted on the advice of its own safety officials, based on their assessment of the risks caused by conditions and crowd numbers on one particular evening.

"The term health and safety gets bandied about but it (the decision) was nothing to do with health," a spokesman said. "It was entirely to do with safety and the personal risks from a specific set of circumstances at a specific time.

Start Quote

Overzealousness about trivial risks gives health and safety a bad name but there are actually many more cases where people are under-hitting”

End Quote Roger Bibbings Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

"It was not a blanket decision that every time we get rain we are going to shut it down."

And Butlins said there had been "no change" to the way it ran its dodgem rides.

"Like most operators of dodgems we decided long ago that a 'no deliberate bumping' policy means that everyone - even our youngest riders - can enjoy a fun experience in a safe environment," a company spokeswoman said.

"This is not a response to legislation but ensures that all our families enjoy their time at our resort."

An independent review of current health and safety legislation in the UK is due to report in October, with ministers keen to consolidate or simplify existing regulations.

'Harmless things'

In response to the HSE report, employment minister Chris Grayling said members of the public should "challenge health and safety myths" and overzealous practices.

"We have seen an epidemic of excuses wrongly citing health and safety as a reason to prevent people from doing pretty harmless things with only very minor risks attached," he said.

"This has to stop. The law does not require this to happen - people must be encouraged to use their common sense."

One health and safety expert said the law required people to approach risks in a balanced and proportionate manner.

"Overzealousness about trivial risks gives health and safety a bad name but there are actually many more cases where people are under-hitting," said Roger Bibbings, occupational safety adviser for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

Good health and safety practice was all about "exercising judgement", he added.

"People in authority such as councillors and managers need to be much more 'risk literate' or 'risk intelligent'. And third partiers such as clients, funders or insurers need to avoid requiring people to do things in the name of 'elf 'n' safety' which are not actually required by the law."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    40. Mr Max
    The problem with thatis because then people would simply ignore basic safety measures. Why pay for expensive covers for live electrical wires?"

    There's negligence, and there's accidents.They're quite different, despite what lawyers say.

    The HSE wants to stop negligence, and accepts that accidents happen, and you can't stop them all.

    Unfortunately, people sue for accidents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Unfortunately many bans such as kite flying are as a result peoples selfishness and ignorance to the dangers their activities pose to others rather than overzealous jobs worth. We were sat on mountain enjoying the view when a metal framed stunt kits landed inches from us. If people used common sense then H&S would not be an issue. One thing that should be banned is chinese latterns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    There's very little wrong with H&S legislation. It's the threat of contingency fee suing that causes all the trouble. Abolish it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.


    If you couldn't sue for every knock bump trip or scrape, then you wouldn't need insurance for every school fete, club or gathering, then you wouldn't have to ban fun in the name of "health and safety"."


    The problem with thatis because then people would simply ignore basic safety measures. Why pay for expensive covers for live electrical wires?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    35. Scorch the Blue Dragon
    "No deliberate bumping" has been the rules on dodgems since I was a kid. I'm in my mid-30's."

    Really? Where do you live? There's no point to dodgems unless you bump...

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    31. Often Rejected
    The real culprits are the insurance companies which want themselves covered"

    They've brought this on themselves by settling claims out of court too often, so now they're seen as an easy touch. Courts would dismiss many claims as being frivolous, but the insurers settle out of court because it's cheaper - but in the long term is just encourages frivolous claims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    PeterLanky, that was not health and safety, is was coomon law and duty of care. Same reason why you can't wire you door handle to mains to stop burglers. This is the problem when people assume it health and safety is the reason for silly thing, it sometimes is out liberal approach to duty of care under common law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    2 things

    Common sense: is not really that common and is often wrong. You may think it safe to stand on a chair, I may not. Only after the fact is the common sense position shown.

    Jobsworth: Isn't this someone who does their job properly? Should nuclear plant inspectors be "jobsworths" or just use their common-sense? What about line inspectors in a baby food factory?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    "No deliberate bumping" has been the rules on dodgems since I was a kid. I'm in my mid-30's.

    Some of this stuff is just made up or given spin to get Sun readers frothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    A big problem for the HSE is that people ban things 'for health & safety', which implies that the HSE has a rule banning it. 99% of the time it doesn't, it's just someone unrelated to the HSE who doesn't like doing something, or is scared of being sued or reprimanded using H&S as an excuse.

    Proper H&S wouldn't ban sack races, just suggest not to do them on concrete.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The ambulance chasing mentatlity and lack of personal responsibility are the primary causes of over the top apllication of H&S rules. When an accident occurs it is very rare for someone to look at their own actions as a cause they prefer to ask the question "what could you of done to stop me doing that"...unfortunately common sense isnt that common any more

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.


    If you get one idiot, a bully, on the dodgems rides, who sole purpose it is to crash into smaller children and ruin their fun."


    Oh, Paul. I'm not entirely sure that you have figured out the point of the dodgems yet. They're also known as "bumper cars" (hint hint).

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The HSE are generally NOT to blame for these excesses. They are generally level-headed about risks. The real culprits are the insurance companies which want themselves covered for every eventuality and run scared of the nutters in our complaints culture. We now have schools which resemble prisons precisely because the insurers are risk-averse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    A story about the Health and Safety Executive saying that people misinterpret the law and blame them for it, has a comments section with liberal scatterings of people waffling on about how Health and Safety Law is too much and basically proving the point, the BBC should run a sweep on when the first post blaming the EU will be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    i do not believe some of the claims,i really don't.i think a lot of them are made up to fill in space in rags like the sun.most people i find are level headed about such things,commonsense being the axiom.most of the attacks are from people who want to destroy the human bill of rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    An accident is an unforseen event.Police no longer use the term Road Traffic Accident(RTA),they use Road Traffic Collision (RTC) because a car crash has a cause,careless driving etc.Common sense and an awareness of your surroundings and thinking about what you're doing doesn't need a H&S assessment every time or a H&S bod dictating nonesense rules.Remember the old saying,look before you leap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    This seems more about (well-founded) fear of speculative litigation than safety concerns.

    It's very disappointing that so many seem to think that health and safety law does not benefit them.

    Wimbledon's action seems pretty sensible, as anyone who has been in a large, excitable, crowd standing on a muddy bank on a rainy day, will know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Everyone who breathes eventually dies. Should we ban breathing?
    Everyone who is born eventually dies. Should we ban being born?
    Everyone who sits next to someone else eventually dies. Should we ban sitting next to people?

    Life has risk. Get over it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    @Peter_Sym - "its your fault if you choose not to wear a hard hat on a building site and have a brick hit you)"
    ___ No, unfortunately this is not correct; the employer would be at fault for failing to ensure that the individual wore the PPE provided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    People fought long and hard to get the health and safety at work act in place so that others would not lose eyes, limbs or their life and could continue to provide for their family. The poor exercise of judgement in banning enjoyable and reasonably safe events overshadows the positive steps as people come to see purely in terms of red tape and cost.


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