Health and safety ‘rules’ exposed by myth-busting HSE panel

Golf buggies were just one of the items to fall foul of bogus H&S concerns. Picture: TSPL
Golf buggies were just one of the items to fall foul of bogus H&S concerns. Picture: TSPL
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BANS on yo-yos in playgrounds, knives in kitchens and kettles in offices have all been wrongly blamed on workplace safety laws this year, according to a new report.

A health and safety “myth-buster” panel, set up by the Health and Safety Executive to expose ridiculous rules imposed under the guise of health and safety laws, has dealt with 100 complaints from the public this year. Of those, 38 have been put down to jobsworths making an excuse for an unpopular decision or simply poor customer service.

Cases include a bar that would not let a customer carry a tray of drinks to their table because they had not carried out health and safety training, and a public hall that removed all the knives from the kitchen.

Other examples include a coffee shop that used health and safety as an excuse for not letting a customer use their own cup and an airline that stopped selling boiled sweets.

Almost a quarter of cases were found to involve over-interpretation of legitimate guidelines, which then became company policy, probably as a result of fear of being sued.

One sixth of all cases came from people who had been given advice that confused health and safety with other regulations or regulators. A similar amount was down to communication failures when explaining the reasons for a decision.

Judith Hackitt, chair of the Health and Safety Executive, said: “It’s really important that we are all ready to challenge stupid decisions made in the name of health and safety, and that we as the regulator give the public the confidence to do so.

“Not only do the jobsworths who make these ridiculous edicts waste time and money, and interfere needlessly with harmless activities, they also undermine our efforts to reduce the number of people made ill, injured or killed by their work.”

Earlier this year, a group of golfers, one of whom was a wheelchair user, were amazed when they turned up at an Ayrshire golf course and were told they could not use a buggy for health and safety reasons. The panel assured the group there are no specific health and safety regulations preventing the safe use of golf buggies on golf courses.It said: “This is a clear case where health and safety has been used to avoid giving the real explanation for what is a policy decision by the club.”

HSE has no role in “authorising” of golf clubs or the use of buggies. Cubs are entitled to make their own rules but none of them should hide behind health and safety as the reason.”

A fish and chip shop which told a customer he could not have batter scraps, office workers who were told they could not have kettles or microwaves in their staff kitchen and a primary school that banned yo-yos from the playground were also highlighted.

Employment minister Mark Hoban said: “It’s so frustrating when people are stopped from doing perfectly sensible things on the false pretence of health and safety. The panel has now exploded 100 myths and is helping ordinary people fight back against the jobsworths.”

Playing it a bit too safe - bizarre Health & Safety rulings

Here are a few examples of the most bizarre health and safety excuses exposed by the “myth-busting” panel.

• A bus driver refused to let a passenger on with a cup of hot coffee. Of course there is no occupational health and safety legislation stopping people with hot drinks getting on to a bus.

• A bar refused to let a customer carry tray of drinks because he had not been “health and safety trained”.

• A charity shop said that they cannot sell knitting needles. But it was later confirmed no health and safety regulations apply to the sale of knitting needles and the panel saw no legitimate health and safety reason which could justify this decision.

• A public hall removed knives from its kitchen. Most people agree that a knife is an essential kitchen tool, but someone at a hall in Cambridgeshire obviously thought he knew better. No laws exist banning them from their natural home.

• A coffee shop refused to fill a customer’s own reusable cup with coffee, citing health and safety. There is no regulation preventing the use of reusable cups.

• An airline passenger was told that boiled sweets were no longer provided on the grounds of health and safety.

• A hotel chain does not provide floor towels for stepping out of the bath/shower due to “Health and Safety” as people “could slip over”.

• A fish and chip shop told a customer he could not have “batter scraps” for health and safety reasons.

• A school has banned the use of yo-yos on health and safety grounds. In exactly the same way as the conker myth, there is no health and safety law which bans yo-yos from schools. Like many toys, there will always be a risk of yo-yos causing minor injuries; it seems a bit over the top to ban them from the school though.

• Office workers were advised that kettles and microwaves are not allowed due to health and safety requirements and that insurance would be needed at a cost to the employer. There is no health and safety law prohibiting the use of kettles and microwaves in the office.