January 16, 2014 9.13 am This story is over 94 months old

Busted: Top 10 health and safety myths

‘Elf and safety: There are a number of overzealous health and safety myths out there. Expert Philip Dolby breaks down ten such popular myths.

Health and safety is blamed for all types of restrictions and requirements, when a lot of the time it has no bearing on the activity they are stopping at all. Health and safety has been linked with candy floss sticks, flip flops, donkey derbies and school ties, all of which have been publicised in the newspapers and on the television. It’s time to put the record straight now, and here are just a few of the activities and excuses that some people say are the result of the Health and Safety Executive.

Children must wear goggles to play conkers

A head teacher decided children should wear safety equipment (goggles and gloves) to play conkers. Subsequently some schools have banned conkers on ‘health and safety’ grounds. In reality, the risk from playing conkers is incredibly low. If children deliberately hit each other with conkers, then that’s a discipline issue, not health and safety.

Egg boxes and toilet rolls are banned in craft lessons as they might contain salmonella

A school banned children from using cardboard egg boxes and toilet roll centres to make things as they were concerned that children might catch salmonella from the card. This caused a storm in an egg cup. The county council involved provided guidance along with the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services (CLEAPSS) stating that as long as the egg packets and toilet rolls (card) were clean, then there was no reason they could not be used.

The HSE has banned the use of stepladders in the workplace

This myth was created by either an overzealous safety person or someone who didn’t want to work on a ladder. Stepladders and ladders have never been banned from the workplace. A large number of workers are seriously injured or killed using unsafe ladders and stepladders in the workplace every year. If used correctly, and for short duration work, stepladders and ladders can be a good option, and if you ensure it’s the right equipment for the job and you used along with some common-sense, then they can be used safely

There must be a risk assessment for everything in the workplace

Again, this misinterpretation of regulation three of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 gave rise to this myth. In reality, assessment of the workplace is required to ensure it is safe and if there is a significant risk to safety and health then a suitable and sufficient assessment must be made.

Workers are banned from putting up bunting and Christmas decorations

Nearly all organisations, local councils and even the HSE themselves manage to put up bunting and decorations to celebrate Christmas. All that is required is a suitable step ladder, provided by the boss, instead of teetering on a wheeled office chair, and the job can be done safely.

You can’t throw out sweets to the children at a pantomimes

One pantomime company stopped throwing out sweets to the audience in case anyone got hurt and they were sued for compensation. The chances of someone being seriously hurt is incredibly low and it’s certainly not something the HSE worries about.

Toy ‘weapons’ in plays have to be registered with the police and kept under lock and key

The truth is that HSE guidance on theatrical weapons is concerned with only real or replica ones and not plastic toys.

The HSE bans graduates from throwing mortar boards in the air at their graduation

The reality is that the chance of being struck and injured by a flying mortar board is incredibly small and the concern was that the hat would be damaged and not returned in good condition. Not a HSE concern at all.

Health and safety law bans a firemen’s pole in a fire station

A new fire station was reported in the local press that it had no firemen’s pole due to health and safety. This issue had nothing to do with health and safety but due to the fire station having limited space for a pole

If you call HSE for help, they’ll send an inspector to close you down

In truth when you call the HSE for advice that is what you will get. The trained operators answer the great number of calls and will give advice. If they can’t deal with your query fully they will asked you if it is alright to refer your problem to an expert.

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Philip Dolby is the owner of local training and consultancy company STaC Safety Training Services, which offers accredited and unaccredited training in all aspects of health and safety. Philip has been involved with health and safety for more years than he cares to remember, and enjoys working in this field of expertise immensely. Philip is a member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).