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 474.

    470.paulthebadger: "Public sector parasites being paranoid. They will find any pathetic excuse to justify their miserable existance and impair the economy in the process."

    It's happening in the private sector too. It's farcical how much idiotic form-filling and risk assessment for every damn move anyone makes is being imposed in privately owned companies. No wonder the economy is at a standstill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    Obviously sensible H&S rules measures save lives and serious injury, and stop bad employers exploiting the workforce in dangerous ways. No H&S legislation, however, should prevent people using a bit of sense and keeping things in perspective, nor.encourage greedy litigation. If, as it appears, the laws are too difficult for companies to understand and implement then they seriously need reframing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    How many people who criticise H&S and think it should be abolished would not pursue a claim should they be injured

    I had a window smash as it opened and drop on me in college in the 1980s
    I sued for the 30 quid jumper and t-shirt

    A+E thought I'd been stabbed, the blood runs out of the bottom of a proper wound while the upper section gapes

    Not all of us are interested in these things

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Don't people having a "dirty weekend" lick toilet floors?

    That's why I have never said yes to going on one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    Public sector parasites being paranoid. They will find any pathetic excuse to justify their miserable existance and impair the economy in the process.

    I had one of these 'officials' telling me I needed an asbestos risk assessment in case there was asbestos in the glue used to stick down the single toilet floor tiles.

    Who licks toilet floors anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    H&S is a good thing if it stops people in work from getting injured from bad practices , having to do the job and not complain if you wanted to keep the job , but the ambulance chasers has made it ridiculous , claiming for just being clumsy spilling a hot drink etc, the courts could do a lot to stop this nonsense , and we wonder why insurance is so high ! well higher then ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    I have been telling my children of my adventure on the 10m diving board. Unfortunately children these days are denied even the pleasures of bombing from springboards. Yes, I know some people have hurt themselves, but fun just doesn't figure in the H&S universe. Good luck to businesses making their own rules, they can't be more ludicrous than the real thing and often make more sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    I think the bandwagon jumpers need to understand that we've always had 'Health & Safety'. It used to be called HMFI. All H&S act did was pull various laws together. The idiotic application of this law is entirely due to the non-qualified idiots employed to police it now. Bring back properly qualified engineers to the job, and the problems will be solved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    Just remove all rights to litigation. Take the money out of the situation and we can behave like sensible people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    My opinion, many so called Health and Safety rules are in effect rules to stop litigation.
    Take the baby food example. Customer heats food, feeds baby, burns baby - companies fault. Therefore H&S says No, cannot heat babyfood.
    Cheaper to settle claims than challenge them - they get a pay out - more
    As a company far easier to say NO, than be helpful and have to pay high insurance premiums

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    The definition "jobsworth" has been around for a long time.

    There si a reason it exists and that reason is largely due to 'elf an' safety nutters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    In the last nine months of 2011 - 2012 , 203 people have been killed at work. Health and safety is a joke is it ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.


    I was referring to the department of my company, as evidenced by my further post. But thanks for clearing that up for me. You should get a sticker!

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    How many years has it taken for some jobs worth to realise that! Health and safety is a misnomer for jobs worths to interfer in peoples lives! Common sense is not allowed to rule these days. One big problem these days is management tick boxing. NHS comes to mind, having just come out of hospital.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    It's not just PI lawyers, but the fear of prosecution from the HSE and widening of corporate manslaughter laws.

    The HSE should give a more balanced picture, giving details of the cases they prosecute so we can judge for ourselves whether or not they are overzealous.

    With data protection, the paranoia stems from the arrogant ICO, who lack any common sense in their interpretiation of the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    It's interesting to read what Chris grayling said about this subject because It appears that the Prime minister doesn't support health & safety. Here's a quote from David Cameron on 5 Jan 2012 – who vowed to "kill off the health and safety culture for good"
    Politicians; please let the HSE enforce safetythey know what they're doing - and they're impartial, you aren't!

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    455. Fredrica 'It's all very well saying the HSA haven't ruled these things, but they have ruled that a ridiculous number of risk assessments have to be undertaken.'

    Not so. The HSE just states that organisations must carry out risk assessments. It doesn't say what or how many - this is left to individual organisations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    Penguin 337 - thankfully the rules protect those too stupid to value them too. However, it's good to see that many on HYS can see what is really driving this situation.

    As for traffic lights, what on earth are you on about. Yes there are a lot of traffic lights and yes they are frustrating but they're not at all relevant here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    Part of the problem is that the jobsworths get away with it. We are as much at fault by allowing them to uphold their indefensible position instead of simply asking them to justify and prove the rubbish they are spouting. If they say that it is an H&S issue ask to see the risk assessment to justify their actions or suggest that they are discriminating against you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    The problem is, organisations have to fill in risk assessments before doing anything involving the public, and once something is identified as a source of risk, the organisation has to provide an answer to that. It's all very well saying the HSA haven't ruled these things, but they have ruled that a ridiculous number of risk assessments have to be undertaken.


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