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.

'Smokescreen'

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.

TOP 10 'HEALTH AND SAFETY MYTHS'

  • 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
    +60

    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
    +102

    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
    +34

    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
    +49

    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
    +38

    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.

 

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