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More 'elf and safety excuses exposed by watchdog

Date:
9 August 2013

As the heatwave in Britain subsides, it seems the country’s jobsworths have been suffering from heatstroke as The Health and Safety Executive releases yet more barmy ‘elf and safety myths, in its drive to bring common sense back into decision making and to combat misuses of health and safety legislation.

HSE’s Myth Busters Challenge Panel was set up in 2012 to provide quick advice to people subject to ridiculous or disproportionate health and safety decisions by insurance companies, local authorities, employers and overzealous jobsworths.

The Panel has received over 200 cases since being launched in April last year with nearly all rulings finding a decision was made without having any basis in health and safety law.

Minister for Employment Mark Hoban said: "It’s time businesses and others stopped hiding behind health and safety when the simple truth is that they are either jobsworths or giving poor customer service. Their attitude gives health and safety a bad name and it undermines good health and safety which keeps people safe and enables them to enjoy the summer."

HSE Chair, Judith Hackitt added: "The stories just keep on coming in – you just could not make them up. I am proud of what our Myth Busters Panel has achieved in exposing the real reasons behind all of these so-called "health and safety" stories. If we understand what is really driving this blatant misuse of health and safety then we can all tackle the root causes – jobsworths be warned!"

Here are this summer’s top myths;

  1. Jenna Barton was enjoying a break in Suffolk when she saw a young family stopped in their tracks by a sign in a chip shop window that struck her as particularly fishy.

    A notice declaring "under three year olds are not allowed on the premises or in the restaurant" was hanging near the front door at the chippy in Aldeburgh.

    Jenna, 33, a facilities supervisor, from Colchester knew there would be no health and safety regulations applying to children entering restaurants or takeaways, but alerted the Myth Busters to confirm it was a nonsense excuse.

    Of course, the Panel ruled this was yet another case of health and safety being used as an excuse and a complete over-reaction to an easily controlled risk. The restaurant should simply ask parents to control their children while in the premises if it doesn’t want little ones running around, not cite non-existent health and safety rules.

    Jenna said: "At the time it seemed like overkill and I know enough about the law to realise they were using the old health and safety line as an excuse, thinking no-one will challenge it."

  2. A children’s soft play centre in Oxfordshire has signs up stating "customers must not consume their own food or drink on the premises due to health and safety reasons".

    Unsurprisingly though, customers ARE allowed to consume hot drinks and cooked meals on the premises as long as they are bought from the play centre’s own cafe.

    One disgruntled mum informed the Panel who were happy to clarify that of course no health and safety laws exist that would stand in the way of customers consuming their own food in circumstances as described. The panel all believed this was a clear case of commercial motives being conveniently hidden behind the catch-all health and safety excuse.

  3. Patrons of a Village Hall in Burford, Oxfordshire will probably be glad they don’t have to get their hands clean by doing the washing up as the Committee reckons putting your hands in soapy suds is a health and safety issue.

    It has told people using the hall for private parties, christening etc they must use a dishwasher as a requirement of health and safety.

    What nonsense, there is no health and safety legal requirement that would stipulate use of a dishwasher, so whatever the real reason, the Panel says the washed-up Committee should stop misleading folk and come up with a better excuse to get out of doing the dishes!

  4. A leading DIY store was hardly doing itself any favours when it refused to help a customer do-it-himself and cut a piece of timber in store.

    The customer popped into his local branch of a high street DIY store to pick up some timber beading for his home improvements. However, when the wood was too long to fit in his car he asked staff to cut it down to size. He was stunned when the assistant said he could not help as it was against health and safety rules. The bemused customer then asked for a saw to do it himself and was again rebuffed as the store said it would liable if he hurt himself.

    He approached Myth Busters who ruled that the company should be fully aware of the risks and how to safely use the tools and equipment they sell. The Panel put this case down to poor customer service and urged the store to practice what it preaches.

  5. A local gym raised a few heckles (and chuckles) when a notice stating that for "health and safety reasons, members are requested to only use the hair dryers for hair on the head" appeared in the changing rooms.

    One fitness enthusiast was left scratching his own barnet at the bristly directive so alerted the Myth Busters. They of course ruled there is no occupational health and safety legislation regarding the use of hairdryers to dry hair on body-parts other than the head. The Panel stated; "This is clearly an easy excuse to deter people from using hair dryers inappropriately in a public place and the health club should give the real reason for their decision rather than hiding behind the health and safety catch all.

  6. One might think that it would be in the best interests of hotels, restaurants and bars to provide the means for customers to leave the premises in the same way they found them. Not so one hotel…which refuses to provide toilet brushes in its bathrooms for patrons on the grounds of, you guessed it, health and safety.

    Despite there being absolutely no law preventing the use of bog brushes in loos around Britain, the hotel has taken it upon itself to refuse to supply the bristly cleaners to customers on the well-worn excuse of ‘elf and safety grounds. Now experts at the Health and Safety Executive’s Myth Busters Challenge Panel have flushed the nonsense excuse down the proverbial pan.

    Bemused customer Malcolm Forbes, 64, from Hertfordshire contacted Myth Busters after staying at a plush hotel in Newport, South Wales in June. When the company director and father of two tried to flush out the real reason for the ban, he was told it was for health and safety reasons.

    The Myth Busters ruled that no legal requirements exist that prohibit the provision of toilet brushes in hotels or other public conveniences. Lots of shared toilet facilities in offices, bars, supermarkets etc do provide them with any hygiene risks easily managed.

    Whatever the real reason for the brush ban, HSE thinks the hotel operator should come clean and stop pulling the public’s chain. If true grounds are for commercial reasons or reducing cost then be clear and flush these tired excuses away.

    Malcolm said: "I couldn’t believe it when they cited health and safety. What about the effect on staff having to face dirty pans every morning? The hotel should not embarrass customers in this way. They have not thought this policy through and have just used health and safety as a cover".

    "I can’t imagine what the real reason is but I do know I would not want any of my family working as a housekeeper at a hotel that actively discourages residents from cleaning the pan after themselves."

  7. A table tennis table used by factory workers in break times was removed after a jobsworth claimed it was a health and safety risk. The panel smashed that nonsense out of the court by declaring there are no health and safety rules that prevent employees playing table tennis in their leisure time. A suitable location is all that is needed.

  8. One diner who went to a department store in London for breakfast thought staff were yolking when he was told he couldn’t have a fried egg for health and safety reasons.

    Stunned at this response he probed further and was told someone in another store left a frying pan on the heat causing a fire, so a decision was made to stop supplying fried eggs in all store restaurants.

    The Myth Busters said this was a classic case of an over the top and misguided response to a problem. Banning the sale of fried eggs will not stop other pans being overheated if staff do not take appropriate care. Fire is a risk when cooking but one that can be easily managed. The store later admitted this was not a health and safety decision at all but a matter of company policy.

  9. One overzealous racecourse steward confiscated a sun parasol from a racegoer because he said it posed a health and safety risk. Despite the searing heat this summer, the steward told the lady in question that someone could use it as a weapon. Bizarrely this silly rule ignores the fact that when it is raining, umbrellas are allowed.

    The Panel said there was clearly no health and safety issue here – many of us carry umbrellas with points when we travel on crowded public transport every day without incident. The racecourse has a clear policy that states that they reserve the right to refuse articles being brought into the event. On this occasion, someone judged that a parasol could be used as a weapon – a bizarre decision and certainly not health and safety.

  10. A Chinese restaurant in East Sussex refused to provide a customer with a finger bowl giving health and safety as the reason. The bemused diner complained to the Myth Busters who were clear that this nonsense excuse was blatantly used to hide the poor customer service. There is no health and safety regulation that could possibly be interpreted as a reason for banning finger bowls.

Notes to editors

About the panel and key messages

  • The MBCP was set up to challenge the plethora of silly decisions made in the name of health and safety that lead to myths about what the law requires.
  • HSE wants people to stop using health and safety as an excuse for unpopular decisions, when the decision has in fact been made on other grounds – such as fears about cost or complexity or worries about being sued.
  • It wants decision makers to be specific about reasons for banning an activity on health and safety grounds, rather than just hiding behind the catch-all term "health and safety".
  • Tackling disproportionate advice is vital to restoring confidence in the true purpose of health and safety – saving lives and preventing injury and ill health in the workplace.
  • Health and safety laws exist to provide safeguards against people being seriously injured or made unwell at work, not to hamper everyday activities.
  • The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk

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