Health and safety law 'misused', minister warns

Mike Penning at 10 Downing Street on 7 October 2013 Image copyright PA
Image caption Mike Penning said health and safety was often cited as an "easy excuse"

A government minister has written to schools and local authorities in England urging a more common sense approach to health and safety.

Work and pensions minister Mike Penning described those who misuse the legislation as "jobsworths".

He said he wants to avoid situations like a ban on school pupils wearing frilly socks after one girl fell over.

Nearly 300 people have contacted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to challenge recent decisions.

They include a council preventing loose flowers and pots being placed on graves and a school sports day being cancelled - because there was dew on the grass.

Mr Penning said: "Health and safety has long been used as a smokescreen by jobsworths who have little knowledge of the law and who want to fob people off with an easy excuse."

'Safety myths'

Judith Hackitt, who chairs the HSE, said: "I would urge all decision makers to take a step back and ask themselves whether a decision made in the name of health and safety is actually just an excuse for something else.

"Real health and safety is about protecting people in the workplace from life and health threatening risks - it is not about stopping a child taking a baby chick into school, or banning indoor dog training.

"Own up to the real reasons behind the decision, don't just reach for the easiest excuse."

Almost 300 people have contacted the "myth busters" challenge panel set up by the HSE two years ago to report misinterpretations of the law.

Professor Paul Almond of the University of Reading, who has written a book on health and safety myths, said of the minister's intervention: "It's great that he's recognised that all of these stories are actually myths and wants to support real proper health and safety instead."

But he questioned whether or not the message was going to "reach the people that it really needs to reach".

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