Watchdog publishes list of biggest health and safety 'myths'

Baby being fed Incidents cited by the watchdog included cafes refusing to warm up baby food

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Over-zealous health and safety decisions made by "jobsworths" are interfering too much with people's lives, a watchdog says.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published what it calls "blatant examples" of firms using health and safety as an excuse to refuse service.

Incidents include cafes refusing to heat up baby food, a golf course banning golf buggies and an airline refusing a passenger a blanket.

Ministers said this was "frustrating".

Through its Myth Busters Challenge Panel, the HSE seeks to draw attention to inaccurate claims that health and safety forbids certain activities when no such rules exist.

An HSE spokesman said the campaign aimed to stop organisations "hiding behind the term health and safety" and to give the real - often valid - reasons behind their decisions.


Since April the HSE has been calling on people who think they were subject to a "ludicrous ruling" to submit examples to them for professional assessment.


  • A boot supplier claimed that it was banned from accepting dirty boots for return
  • Cafes and restaurants refusing to heat up baby food
  • A golf club told players that golf buggies were not health and safety authorised
  • A hospital refused the use of a microwave on a ward
  • A gym-goer was told he could not lift weights without wearing trainers
  • A woman was banned by her boss from wearing sandals in the office in summer
  • A passenger was refused a blanket on a flight but told she could buy one
  • A campsite banned sleeping in a camper van
  • A primary school's treehouse had to be located away from the premises because of a risk to children
  • A council banned a nursery teacher from taking children to an allotment

Source: Health and Safety Executive

The panel picked a top 10 from the submissions received about decisions made by insurance companies, local authorities, employers and others.

HSE chair Judith Hackett said the panel had "seen some blatant and disturbing examples of people using health and safety as an excuse in the last few months, ranging from a smokescreen for a whole host of unpopular decisions to completely nonsensical interpretations of what the law requires.

"We're tackling these jobsworths and their lame excuses, which trivialise the real work of health and safety. The real task is to prevent death, serious injury and ill health caused by work."

The HSE has published lists of health and safety myths in previous years but these were based on press reports rather than direct evidence from the public.

The HSE said it had taken this year's claims "at face value" as it did not have the resources to investigate each incident individually, just to rule on whether or not health and safety law applied.

Blanket refusal

The list includes the case of a woman refused a blanket on a Monarch Airlines flight when returning from a holiday in Turkey.

Zoe Hammond claimed she asked an attendant for a blanket because she was cold but was told she could not have one on grounds of health and safety.

Start Quote

It is hugely frustrating when excuses are being made in the name of health and safety”

End Quote Chris Grayling Employment Minister

The attendant then said a blanket could be purchased for five pounds.

The panel ruled: "This is a blatant case of health and safety being used gratuitously to cover up poor customer service or a commercial decision. It is clear that there's no health and safety concern given that blankets are available - at a price."

In a statement, Monarch confirmed that blankets and pillows were complimentary on long haul flights but were only available on short haul flights for a charge.

The airline said that passenger comfort "remains one of our top priorities" and it would investigate Ms Hammond's claim.

'Fight back'

In another incident, a mother said that cafes and restaurants had refused to warm up baby food for her daughter because the hot food might burn the 14-month-old girl's mouth.

The panel said that no such health and safety restrictions exist and ruled that the incidents were "a matter of company policy regarding customer service and [cafes] should not be using health and safety as an excuse to hide behind".

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said it was "hugely frustrating when excuses are being made in the name of health and safety".

"The Myth Busters Challenge Panel is helping the man and woman on the street to fight back against the jobsworths," he added.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    H&S is not the problem, it’s the fear of being sued or the insurers withdrawing cover because they are frightened of the lawyers. Curb the lawyers instead, e.g. only allow claims for very major injury or death or for gross negligence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    A lot of these excuses are probably more around fear of being sued than actual health and safety.

    I can't blame the resteraunt for refusing to heat a baby's bottle incase they burned themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    There are so many examples of overzealous H&S measures in the UK that we become aware of them only when we go abroad. How often have you encountered temporary traffic lights, for instance, when the obstruction is negligible? How often are complete motorways closed due to a minor incident affecting one lane only? To quote: "If it prevents only one accident ... it will not have been worth it."

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    I've come across three types of "you can't do this because of H&S". The first is genuinely dangerous things, this is real H&S and it's sensible. The second is the classic "H&S excuse" when you really mean "because I couldn't be bothered" or "because we'd rather charge you extra for that". But the real problem is "because I'm scared of getting sued". There's some laws that could do with a review.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    "A gym-goer was told he could not lift weights without wearing trainers" He shouldn't lift weights without trainers. Unless he had other type of non slip footwear, I don't see a problem with this ruling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    these examples show just how tricky it is. In a busy cafe, it would be easy to leave some baby food in for too long and over heat it. Plus they have no idea if the mother has any common sense or not. That means it is their responsibility to 'cook' someone else's food and not be paid for it. Also the food can be eaten cold anyway. So i'd be inclined to refuse if i owned a cafe

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    The Health & Safety At Work Act 1974.
    Yes folks 1974, that is when it passed parliament and the first and last time it was updated.

    Yes Kevin but its implementing Regulations, ACOPS, Guidance Notes & Information Notes are constantly updated & number around 300 all in all. Read'em all yet ? Me neither.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Andrew W: given that we have only had one socialist government in this country (1948) which created the NHS and Welfare State, I think it is a bit rich to blame H&S on socialists. Given that Parliament in 1974, when the act was passed, was hung with the Unionists and Liberals holding the balance of power and that the prior government was Tory it is not even factually correct.

  • Comment number 146.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    1988 - Piper Alpha disaster - HSE introduces PFEER regulations to regulate offshore Oil & Gas industry. The regulations use words like 'foreseeable', 'reasonable', 'good prospect' etc. Doesnt sound too ridiculous or OTT does it? Misinterpretation and misapplying the regulations is not the fault of the HSE.
    BTW - another Piper type incident has never come CLOSE to happening again in the UK.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    As a retired course instructor in Health and safety Management Systems I have been long appalled by the abuse of Health & Safety Law. all firms should purchase and learn from HS Guide 65 publishes by the HSE in which it emphasises that actions should only be necessary after risks have been assessed by trained personnel. what is obvious in so many organisations is the absence of trained personnel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    The HSE are totally to blame for this mess. They started it!
    A course I once attended given by an HSE trainer told me that if I had to borrow a step ladder to use at a customers site, they had to give me training first on how to use it! Otherwise, I could buy it for a pound, then it was mine use! Ridiculous...

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Re: Kevin

    Why should the Health and Safety at Work (etc) Act 1974 need to be updated? If you read the two most relevant sections (Section 2 and 3) you will see that all it does is give employers notice of their responsibilities. It doesn't give specifics, if it did it would need updating continuously. There have been subsequent laws for different industries, ie Nuclear, Offshore etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    This all seems remarkably uncontroversial. It seems the legislation is fine, but some idiots are either over-zealous in applying it, or use it as an excuse not to do things they don't want to do.

    That doesn't mean the stories about stupid abuse of H+S stories are not valid.Nor does it mean we should not have H+S.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Colin Wright (112)
    "suggestions in other places around the world could result in a late night visit by the 'Security Police' or worse."

    If someone's living in that kind of place, they'll be far more aware of the risks than the BBC can convey in some generalised "don't do anything risky" statement. Self-protection will stop a person taking that kind of risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    @125 The reason for the signs on hot taps in public areas is not H&S as you imply, but fear of litigation by people out to make a fast buck. Anyone remember the McDonalds 'scalding coffee' case? A person successfully sued McDonalds since they had not been warned that the contents were hot. Think it was the US, but as they say what happens in the US happens in the UK ten years later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    @68 DennisTheMenace pt2
    If you try to help someone who is conscious without getting consent, or if they give consent then tell you to stop, continuing to administer first aid could be considered to be assault, but if they are unconscious their consent is implied and you are protected by the law.
    None of this has anything to do with Health and Safety law

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    @Andrew W

    Out of the top 10 cases, the majority appear to have emanated in the private sector, which would suggest your comment is based on either ignorance or prejudice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    not to mention the health and safety of the driver as I was seriously tempted to dish out some GBH on him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Once the government gets involved it always becomes a mess

    You used to drive up to a roundabout, go left, right, or straight ahead.

    NOWADAYS you have up to 3 sets of traffic lights, ON EACH APPROACH ROAD, plus half a dozen different signs saying don't do this and you must do that... plus time of day stuff

    oh yes...and while you're digesting that lot don't crash or knock anyone over please...


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