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 234.

    It took a Watchdog to tells about H&S jobsworths!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think most of us knew that already!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Lets say there isheavy snow. You clear your drive and you help your neighbour because you're a ncie person. They then slip and blame you. You then get sued by some parasitic law firm. The result is that individuals and firms have to be bloody-minded or else face this nightmare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Reading comments here it seems people are waking up to the fact that the problem is lawyers, insurance companies and the lazy or incompetent, not our legislation. Oddly, if you add bankers into that group you could cover just about every problem in the nation.

    Does this not further illustrate how educating yourself in these matters can equip you better for life?

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    @223 I doubt very much it was the HSE who made you do the course - more likely an over-zealous H&S manager within your organisation trying to ensure that when you put your back out lifting a computer screen, you can't claim damages from them because you weren't trained in lifting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    H&S have done some wonderful things over the years, however there are the jobs worths I have to have to complete an annual H&S course and get 80% every year. What does this course cover, How to lift things properly, how to set up my work station, to name a few. Its nothing more than a box ticking exercise and a way for the company to mitigate its responsibility/liability to the employee.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    At my daughters primary school they are not allowed to do cartwheels because of health and safety or use old toilet roll cardboard tubes because of health hazards. As an ex-Health and Safety Advisor - this is H&S gone mad!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    A related nuisance are the constant warnings we receive in public places. As I wait for my train I am constantly told to look out for suspicious activity. We're not still at war with Germany. If something sufficiently suspicious occurs I'm going to call the police anyway. And "in hot weather make sure you drink plenty". Thanks Einstein. It's noise pollution, and definitely bad for my mental health

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    When "Health and Safety" is invoked to justify not doing or allowing something it's rarely anything of the sort. Often it's because public liability insurers can write their own rules as conditions of the cover that go far beyond the statutes. A businesses that's required to have valid public liability insurance obviously has to follow the insurers rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Genuine question, are sporting events exempt from H&S matters?

    I ask because at the recent Olympics the risk assessment of the BMX racing appeared flawed, it being quite obvious that if the event took place there was going to be considerable injuries. As indeed happened.

    Who are the HSE gonna prosecute for that injurious carry on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    As teenagers in the 1960's,a friend and I had a Saturday morning job in the local fishmongers.
    1st job of the day was to empty and reset all the mousetraps that were placed around the shop,some in full view of the customers.
    2nd job was to manhandle a dustbin full of stagnant water out from under the fish counter and dispatch it into a drain in the street,then a bonfire burning old fish boxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Please do not use your microwave oven for drying pets

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Thanks H&S, for making me sit through a day-long course on manual handling. I'm a software analyst so this really came in handy, what with all the heavy lifting involved in HTML.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    216 Peter Sym
    I guess you job does not involve common sense then? And you were hopefully taught the difference between right and wrong, appreciated the discipline of the word "no"! You have (obviously) studied hard to hold down employment. Sometimes life is very unfair, but you cannot avoid having to shoulder responsibility for yourself, and others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    I honestly don't think it's the business owners an firms are to blame here. They're only trying to cover their own backs when refusing such services. It's the local concils and regulators that falsely apply regulations to make spurious threats to businesses.

    Also, Sandles in an office? This is a place of work not a weekend spa. If i came into work wearing flip flops i'd be sent straight home!

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    The 'myths' are generally company rules that are in place because of the blame culture we now have where people sue for everything and anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    I work in a family pub, and I get frequently asked to heat up baby food, which I can't because we have catering microwaves which heat things up in seconds, if you give that to a baby they will scald themselves and then who will the mums blame? I'm not hiding behind H&S so I can be lazy and give poor service. It's not my fault people are too stupid to wait for the baby food to cool!

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    194. Yes, organisations and individuals think they can trot these lines out because they believe no one will challenge them. I do challenge them, ALOT,my employer hates this, as they like to ignore the working time directives,H+S laws etc and then use legal jargon and buzzword bingo rather than actually do things right.

    The law is to protect US, don't ask for it to be ripped up because of fools

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Everyone is going health and safety mad. We got banned from using kettles in our office for health and safety reasons. Now we have to go to the kitchen with one of those flasks with a lid and spout, fill it up using the boiler and carry it all back through the building, I personally think that is more hazardous than using a kettle but there you go, madness!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Yes, the lawyers have a lot to answer for. I was told by a Sainsbury store that they could not guarantee that items in the store were free from allergens, such as nuts and shellfish. This was all designed to protect themselves from a lawsuit. Some cases taken are ludicrous - the hot coffee is an example, but it was a US court! - but that is no excuse for lawyers coming up with nnsensical advice

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    This government has an agenda to relax health and safety as a benefit to employers and an errosion to workers rights and safety. First comes the onslaught of media attacks next will come the legislation..Goes hand in hand with forcing vulnerable sick and disabled people into work/workprogram which is unsuitable for them whilst making it easier to sack people and removing legal aid for tribunals.


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