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 254.

    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..

    Nothing to do with HSE, the rules only say a person who performs a particular activity must be adequately trained. this is your employer/Human resources doing the kind of ott stuff that this article is all about

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    The best I heard of was a manager of a public body being told to put hi-viz tape on some steps where there had never been a problem. Cue someone slipping on the tape....

    @135 - agree. Ever tried to follow a sat nav on a roundabout where you don't know where you're going and having to look at numerous sets of traffic lights at the same time? Only a lawyer could have thought of that one...

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    "It is so much better now and I am thankful for the HS&W Act."

    I don't think anyone is saying the act as a whole is a bad thing, just the over application of it for "risks" that really don't warrant it by jobsworths with nothing better to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    #245 Thats plausible. We had some problems with legionaries disease in water tanks a few years back. I suspect its how the hospital plumbing works. Its a huge building and to get hot water at one end of the campus probably means VERY hot water closer to the boilers. The central heating is equally over-hot (but thats for the patients benefit not the staff)

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    235.Cranial Vacancy

    Funny, my employer has the same in some of their toilets. Why are they spending money to heat water which hurts people?
    The water is heated to such a degree to kill any bacteria in the water. Since these places have much larger water tanks than you have at home the water generally stays sitting in a tank for much longer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Rules Britannia

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Cafes and restaurants refusing to heat up baby food isn't a myth morrisons refused to heat up food for my child. I Evan spoke to the store manager and he said they couldn't do it!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    I think a few health and safety matters require common sense, if you want to heat your baby food up in a restuarant - ask for some hot water, takes a little longer but at least you are responsible for the temperature of it. Yes a lot of companies do hide behind H&S but that is only because we have adopted the American attitude of suing a company everytime something goes wrong that we don't like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    I hate Health and Safety as it seemingly gives people who don't understand the right to dictate ill-considered and stupid rules. Sadly this will always be the case and I blame the government who set this up without considering its effect. Scrap the H&SE, save money and let us all get on with our lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.


    "danger signs on the hot taps because [the water is very very hot]"

    I have been told this is because it has to be hot enough to kill bacteria in the tanks but that may have been made up on the spot when I asked

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    "200 Trevor" The householder has a duty of care to people invited on to there property. If they are not invited, then there is no duty of care. If someone is breaking-in on business property, then they can sue, but the motion can be thrown out as trespasser is assuming the risk of injury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    When you have a 'sue for anything' society the result is a countering 'banned from everything' culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    and it's not just health and safety there is the abuse of Fire Regulations such as my Housing Association who says a 40 year old money tree in a pot on a window ledge could be a danger in a smokey situation to someone trying to climb out the window.

    Amazing how many sensible people seem to lose all common sense when they go to work. I think its an avoidable risk so they should stay at home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    The "standard fit" for employees is the mandatory wearing of hi-viz vest, goggles, gloves, safety boots & the ubiquitous safety helmet irrespective of the inherent & transient proximity hazards to which they are exposed. Such PPE should be issued as a measure of last resort if residual risks from hazards remains unnaceptable. Most managers make it a measure of first resort through ignorance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    At a local theatre I was not allowed to bring in my child's small car booster seat, so that she would be able to see over the heads of the adults in the row infront - for H&S reasons. At another local theatre, (and many cinemas) booster seats are provided for small children - where is the logic?

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.


    There's an IT department for that. And when said IT person nicks his finger on a sharp edge there's a First Aid person there to place the bandage. And then there's a H&S person to write up the incident report, and his PA will file it accordingly, which will then be sent to a line manager for signing, before it's sent to Risk and Compliance to assess the root cause and ongoing risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    When I started work as a boilermaker apprentice in 1973, the number of workplace accidents were horrific. A large number of people at my factory had fingers missing or bad scars. I had an inadequate face mask that caught fire when I was welding. I also had a lump taken out my leg by a large drilling machine that would be banned now. It is so much better now and I am thankful for the HS&W Act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    a mate of mine manages a pizza placet. a waitress called him to a table, an angry man sat there saying i burnt my mouth on this pizza im suing. mate - sir that hot pizza has just come out of the hot oven you were warned were you not that it & the plate will be hot? he said yes but its too hot.
    mate - may i suggest you sue your parents for not teaching you to purse your lips & blow with hot food

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Slipping - An army assault course that had to install non-slip mats to ensure that soldiers in full combat gear didn't slip while running is one of the best I heard recently and I like the loudspeaker warnings on a lot of railway stations saying that because it was raining there might be a slip hazard on platforms

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.


    "danger signs on the hot taps because [the water is very very hot]"

    Funny, my employer has the same in some of their toilets. Why are they spending money to heat water which hurts people? Similarly the council toilets in my town centre. A local KFC used to do it too.

    This is like deliberately putting down broken glass and putting up a warning sign, as if that makes it OK.


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