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

Related Stories

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."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    There is no common sense with councils is there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Regarding health and Safety....and all the assoiciated politics and laws. A full quote of an old saying is
    "the road to hell is planned by the well meaning, paved with good intentions and walked by the self rightous"
    Politicians and jobsworths take note

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    H&S is a classic 'right wing trap' - as per usual the inability to think beyond the 'now' by the right wing is shown for all it's (in)glory.

    You see H&S is really a 'cost saving' exercise. If we had none then the impact on the NHS would be massive as people injure themselves uneccessarily.

    The right wing live in bubbles they have never been able to join the dots between 'past' and 'future'

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    The HSE says that Wimbledon was wrong to close Henman hill during a period of heavy rain which had made it slippery. Yet on the HSE website under a section devoted to slips and trips the HSE says that the law "means slip and trips risks must be controlled to ensure people do not slip, trip and fall". Surely if there are a number of people on a wet slippery steep grassy slope they are at risk

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    "103. Stevie D
    @potatolord (101)
    …On the other hand, there are far too many situations where common sense has been ruled out because some nannying bureaucrat is worried about being sued”

    Common sense? Drive on any British road for one hour and you can see dozens of examples that disprove its existence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Here's a solution to the problem - if someone gets hurt (say at the local fete) and is going to sue the organisers, then the HSE should be brought in to rule whether or not they have a valid claim. If they do then the organisers pay the HSE fee (for their time and expenses). If they don't then those wanting to claim must pay the HSE fee. We'll soon see a lot of frivolous claims disappearing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Most if not all the so called 'Elf and Safety stories we come across in the media are either driven by litigation or fear of and most certainly not by legislation. H&S in the UK is probably one of the best in Europe and a lot of that is down to the HSE and Local authority inspectors, who tirelessly inspect, give advice and prosecute where necessary. Bring back common sense !

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Often the problem isnt legislation it is insurance. If the insurance companies decide to penalise anything other than sedate activity with higher premiums or vague cover or limitations on cover then everyone gets averse to those activities due to cost or uncertainty over who is liable should soemthing happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    I'm probably unique amongst comentors here in that I'm an actual H&s in my workplace. and I have no power to ban anything. I can only point things out. It's those in authority who make the decisions

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    People think Health and Safety is about removing all risk. This is simply not the case, it is about assessing risk and putting in REASONABLE measures to minimize the risk. Reasonable does not mean banning. For example: Riding a motorcycle (Which I do) has some major risks... therefore you are required to wear a helmet and it is recommended that you wear other protective clothes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    I've seen a "trip hazard" sign where the only trip hazard appeared to be the sign itself. Crazy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    You know the scene: wet floor and the "Wet Floor" sign.

    There's always someone to fetch and erect the sign ...

    ...but never anyone to actually wipe the bloody floor dry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    @105 perhaps you should have counter sued the parents for poor parenting and neglect. The child could have been taken into care and later sued someone on his own behalf for the mental trauma had endured as a result of a fall in a skate park which twenty years later will no doubt turn him into someone with Post traumatic Stress syndrome incapable of working and be able to claim benefits for life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.


    Actually, it would be his fault. If he has signed his H&S contract stipulating he MUST wear his hat at all times on site, and chooses not to (this is the important bit - it must be his choice to do so)..then this is breach of contract and he would be at fault equating to no pay out from the company.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I cannot help thinking that this "sue for everything" culture is more in the mind than in the practise. It would help if the government banned "no win, no fee" practices but having destroyed most access to legal aid it would leave poorer people very vulnerable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    "Good health and safety practice was all about "exercising judgement", he added."
    Indeed but that seldom happens these days.
    The world is run by bankers & solicitors sprinkled with a `good' dose of P.C.
    No wonder we are in a mess.
    Folks end up openly MOCKING H&S is that what they want ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    103.Stevie D

    On the other hand, there are far too many situations where common sense has been ruled out because some nannying bureaucrat is worried about being sued by someone too stupid to walk along a pavement safely."


    The trouble is, Stevie, people DO sue & it costs Councils a fortune. It's not them being nannying & overhyping a problem, it's them avoiding lawsuits that DO happen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    97. bojan_rsk
    I have never put my life in jeopardy"

    Really? Never walked outside? Never eaten or drunk anything? Never breathed?

    There's a risk to everything; sensible people manage risk all the time. Most people assess risk incorrectly (eg flying being more dangerous than walking) but they still manage risk. The risk with over-zealous H&S is that it stops people learning this skill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    When I was a teenager, a group of friends and I organised for a skate-park to be built in our home town. We raised an awful lot of money, and it was built, however we had to put signs up saying no under-10's were allowed (insurance). An 8 year old lad hurt himself on the park, and his parents sued. When we pointed out the warnings, the Lawyer argued that we therefore knew it was a problem!

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Thanks for demonstrating perfectly that this is simply a law on common sense. Some people have common sense, others don't. It's not something you can legislate, and if you try to, people will just think it is stupid and ignore it.


Page 8 of 14


More Politics stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.