“For Health and Safety Reasons”


There is no denying that health and safety is regarded as something of a joke in some quarters. This comes as no surprise when many workplace decisions, justified using the lazy “it’s for health and safety reasons” excuse, are taken based on poor advice or for reasons unrelated to health and safety such as making the manager’s own job easier, denying employees a particular perk, etc.

All businesses should be run sensibly if they are to succeed; health and safety has to be managed on a reasonable basis if it is to contribute to the success of the company. However, we find managers, concerned about being sued or prosecuted, making decisions without understanding the basic principles of health and safety management, unwittingly creating problems or wasting resources.

In the UK, a Myth Busters Challenge Panel was formed in 2012 by the Health and Safety Executive to allow individuals or businesses to challenge decisions made on the basis of health and safety, which they felt were inappropriate or just plain wrong. The first case involved a member of the public asked to remove a child’s swing from their rented parish council allotment on the grounds of health and safety. The panel confirmed that there was no safety issue and suggested the complainant challenge the council to explain the real reasons for their decision.

Since then, the panel has examined over 230 varied cases including:

  • Cleaners at London underground stations banned from wearing woolly hats in winter;
  • A well-known department store refusing to serve fried eggs in a “full English breakfast” for fear of a pan fire;
  • An assistant in a DIY chain saying she could not put a 5 litre tin of paint into a carrier bag for health and safety reasons;
  • A customer told by her fishmonger that they would not fillet her fish as it was too slippery;
  • A member of staff in a café refusing to put sauce on the customer’s ice cream due to health and safety reasons; and,
  • Office staff being told they could not have Christmas decorations around their desks for, yes, health and safety reasons.

We know that this is probably just the tip of the iceberg as many people will not take the time to contact Myth Busters, they will just shrug their shoulders, raise their eyes to the ceiling and, regrettably, tell others of the “jobsworth” they dealt with. The potential damage to customer service and employee morale will chip away at a hard won reputation.

No-nonsense advice from health and safety professionals with experience of working within businesses will help to avoid decisions being taken based on limited safety information or fear of litigation. This should be followed up with targeted training in health and safety issues specifically appropriate to the business; communicating good practice across the organisation and bringing a little common sense into business…for health and safety reasons.

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