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Busting the HSE myths

A tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

A little information is a dangerous thing. And no-where is this more in evidence than in the arena of health and safety. At the risk of sounding all ‘Daily Mail’, there’s an awful lot that gets done in the name of health and safety to ruin our fun/workplaces/chances of making a reasonably honest living.

Or, to be more accurate, there are a lot of decisions made by people with a smidgen of knowledge and a large dose of self-importance which prevent things being done or being done in a certain way, ‘because of health and safety rules’.

Most of it, of course, is complete tosh.

Well now those actually jolly sensible bods at the Health and Safety Executive have had enough. Enough, that is, of their good – or not – name being taken in vain. Enough of people refusing to take responsibility for their own decisions and instead blaming the HSE.

The HSE itself is the first to condemn the practice of banning everything in sight, just in case. Its own website states that “Health and Safety” is often incorrectly used as a convenient excuse to stop what are essentially sensible activities going ahead.

So now, the HSE Myth Busters Challenge Panel has been set up, chaired by HSE Chair Judith Hackitt and supported by a pool of independent members who represent a wide range of interests. This includes small businesses, public safety, trade union, the insurance industry and many outside interests where day-to-day common sense decisions on risk management are made.

The panel will look into complaints regarding the advice given by non-regulators such as insurance companies, health and safety consultants and employers and, quickly assess if what it calls a “sensible and proportionate decision” has been made. Or, whether some numpty has decided to interpret the law in their own way. Those are my words, not the HSE’s but you get the gist.

To mark the launch of the panel, HSE has published its top ten worst myths.

1.Children being banned from playing conkers unless they are wearing goggles

2. Office workers being banned from putting up Christmas decorations

3. Trapeze artists being ordered to wear hard hats

4. Pin the tail on the donkey games being deemed a health and safety risk

5. Candy floss on a stick being banned in case people trip and impale themselves

6. Hanging baskets being banned in case people bump their heads on them

7. Schoolchildren being ordered to wear clip on ties in case they are choked by traditional neckwear

8. Park benches having to be replaced because they are three inches too low

9. Flip flops being banned from the workplace

10. Graduates ordered not to throw their mortar boards in the air

Finally, a government-funded organisation sees sense. Shame the same can’t be said for DECC, but that’s another story.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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