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 294.

    According to the TUC, the UK is only 20th out of 34 developed countries for H&S, so despite all their meddling they are not very good at it either
    I'm not sure what you are referring to here, but the UK has the lowest work related deaths per 100,000 in the EU. Unless you mean "days off sick" which is totally different and says more about our work ethic!

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    For all those of you who relish the opportunity to 'diss' health and safety as a waste of time, effort and money, I've been directly involved in the aftermath of numerous workplace fatalities over the years. So think of the 150 people who said goodbye to their partners and children this year, and never came home from work. That's what H&S professionals are trying to prevent. Heartache and tragedy

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Those who quote Health and Safety frequently always falls down when asked to quote the specific regulation.

    Really they're just frightened in case something goes wrong and they get their P45.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Fact is, it's not H&S law that is the problem. It is high insurance levels and risk assessment paperwork thanks to the ever-present threat of being sued (whether justified or not) that leads businesses/public bodies to blame H&S. Ambulance chasing law firms and misconceptions are the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    The whole point of the Health & Safety At Work Act was that the people in a firm or an organisation resolved issues of safety together. It was as much a dialogue as a programme of improvement.

    The only places where it failed to work was where management considered it pointless. They have now largely been brought into line.

    Now it is the jobsworths and the BS merchants who are the trouble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    22 Minutes ago
    A supermarket garage refused to let me have petrol as my 11 year old son was standing beside me at the pump. They wouldn't release the pump until my son was in the car sobbing as he is Autistic and has serious separation issues.//

    I sympathise with you, and with the garage. How and why could they know?

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    HSE are correct in there are too many instances of 'Health & Safety' being cited as a reason for not doing something or preventing an act taking place.

    When faced with such a situation my first question is to ask under what interpretation of which Act is this banned /being prevented followed by asking for a copy of their risk assessment that has lead to this decision.

    You can guess the rest!

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    According to the TUC, the UK is only 20th out of 34 developed countries for H&S, so despite all their meddling they are not very good at it either.

    So sack most of them, ignore the liberal establishment's outcry and put the money saved into frontline services instead.

    How many more lives can extra nurses, doctors and policemen save instead?

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Yes there are plenty of health and safety myths, but there is also the unstoppable expansion of health and safety personnel in the workplace. My work, a utilities contractor, used to have one h+s officer, now there's a whole department, empire building, with kids just out of uni, their first job, telling 40 tear old tradesmen how to use stepladders and power tools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    I asked a cafe to warm up some baby food and they told me "No" on the grounds of H&S

    The real reason is that if you're a grotty parent and your child gets food poisoning they could be sued
    If your food/container is contaminated, and it contaminates the cafe microwave then that's another problem they want to avoid

    The bottom line is that they have no idea about your levels of personal hygiene

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    I work as a carer for a person with duel sensory lose. While we have a maintance crew who fix any damage that occurs in the house, they refuse to change the batteries in the fire alarm. The fire alarm is too high to reach, but there are no step ladders anywhere in the building and we have been banned from standing on chairs. So we either break one of these H+S rules, or not have a fire alarm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    We all need to remember that the Health and Safety at Work Act and it's predecessors made it illegal to send little boys up chimnies and children down mines. If we did not have them, employers would be able to sacrifice their employees' safety on the altar of profit (as was clearly the case). I grew up in Glasgow and saw far too many men with less fingers than the should have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    @Tony Fisher Putting paper next to a fuse board is purely insane and the inspector was absolutely correct in pointing it out. Minor fuse board fires due to power surges are not a big problem, as they is designed to cope with this. Having inflammable items next to it is just crazy though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    Human rights, health and safety - they're just industries to soak up the ever increasing population and keep them busy. The only real beneficiaries are the parasitic lawyers and the BRIC economies who aren't fettered by the bureaucracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    though some rules may seem ridiculous to us with morals there are plenty of people who would & do sue because the heated up baby food was too hot or the tap water was too hot etc etc. it's why the rules are ott.

    its the blame claim laws that need changing & what defines a legitimate case. judges need to say no, it happens, then throw the case out. people should not get compensated for stupidity

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    Some of these cases are for fear of litigation rather than genuine H&S rules; and for that, people who use any excuse to go to court, and lawyers encouraging such behaviour, are to blame. There have been restaurants taken to court for serving them hot food or drinks, or for heating baby food.
    I worked at one such place when I was a student - a customer spilled her coffee and sued us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    The fear of being sued goes beyond health and safety strictly so called. If I was in the cafe/restaurant business I would not warm customers' baby food in the microwave - I would decline the responsibility if the customer wanted it heated for too long and the baby was injured.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    @269. Matt
    It is a myth, that is the point H&S is making. I also was refused warmed baby food by Harvester for about 6 months. They then changed their company policy. It was never a health and safety issue, it was a company policy to avoid training staff on the difference between an industrial and consumer microwave/

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.


    That's the point of the article. The 'myth' is that cafes are banned from warming baby food due to H&S. The fact is that cafes are not banned from warming baby food, but they often cite H&S as to why they can't won't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    It's ridiculous- I know a school office lady that refused to give someone paracetamol when they were shaking and crying from stomach pain because "they weren't qualified". It's not Health and Safety law, it's a lack of common sense and the fear of getting sued.


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