Are Petty Precautions Making Health and Safety a Laughing Stock?


Since October 2013, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) set up a Myth Busters Challenge Panel to identify and dispute complaints of petty safety provisions that are being imposed by officials. By imposing such trivial rules, "health and safety" - the tool used to keep people safe - is given a bad name.

Health and Safety gone Mad?

Red Tape

The Coalition government have previously expressed concern about red tape and spurious health and safety rules that hinder businesses. This is a concern which they should still have as we have read a number of reports from the HSE that show even now, in some places in the country, health and safety is taken out of context and used as an excuse for unnecessary rules.

The talk of red tape and silly rules was reignited when minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, became disgruntled by a rule introduced by the well-known dog show Crufts in June. They prohibited contests in which the dogs caught 'frisbees', in case any animals were injured.

There are a number of other shortcomings that have been identified by the HSE in terms of health and safety 'rules' being used in inappropriately. These include:

  • A café in Bedfordshire refusing to add strawberry sauce to ice cream for health and safety reasons
  • A university banning the throwing of mortar boards on graduation day
  • A swimming pool refusing to lend floats, goggles and woggle float aids
  • A burger van that refused to cut a burger in half for a child

Getting Rid of the Smokescreen

The danger with batting around the phrase "health and safety" so freely, as illustrated, is that when it comes to really protecting workers and the public, health and safety is mocked due to incidences such as these.

We receive enquiries every day from the public, and people in the workplace who have been seriously injured because their employer, local council or even a neighbour has not taken health and safety risks seriously.

Misty Cawley, solicitor at Simpson Millar LLP comments, "Health and Safety Legislation exists for a very good reason – to protect individuals from real risks. Imposing unreasonable rules under the guise of health and safety only undermines the real reason these rules and regulations are in place in the first place, and does not assist those trying to promote health and safety to protect individuals."

Many of the examples here are the cause of, "health and safety gone mad" a phrase often made in the media. As the HSE have indicated, health and safety is often simply being used as a smokescreen.

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