Health and safety is a serious subject yet there are many stories that come to light which blame health and safety for why certain tasks can’t be done. In a number of these cases it has nothing to do with health and safety and more to do with a lack of understanding or a misunderstanding of health and safety law.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: “We have seen an epidemic of excuses wrongly citing health and safety as a reason to prevent people from doing pretty harmless things with only very minor risks attached. This has to stop. The law does not require this to happen – people must be encouraged to use their common sense.”
“Health and safety laws exist to provide important safeguards against people being seriously injured or made unwell at work and should not hamper everyday activities. These regulations are intended to save lives, not stop them.”
“Middle managers in councils and companies should not try to hide unpopular decisions behind health and safety legislation. People must acknowledge these myths and continue to challenge them.”
See below for some of the health and safety myth news stories that have been reported by the HSE over the last few years.
Some workplace health and safety myths
Health and Safety Myth: If you call HSE for help, you’ll end up with an unwanted inspection
The reality: HSE’s Infoline was confidential and run for HSE by a contractor. Your individual information was not passed to HSE so it won’t result in a visit. The trained operators answered the great majority of calls themselves. If they couldn’t deal with your query fully they asked you if it is alright to refer it to an expert in HSE
Health and Safety Myth: You can’t wear flip-flops to work
The reality: Very often during hot weather many of us think about wearing cooler footwear to the office to help keep cool e.g. sandals or flip flops. In some cases reports suggest that businesses may frown upon someone coming to work in flip-flops or similar footwear. And have used health and safety as an excuse to ban the footwear. Despite recent reports to the contrary, health and safety law doesn’t ban them
However as slips and trips account for about 30% of all workplace accidents, and what you wear on your feet can make a difference, it may well be the case that flip-flops aren’t the most appropriate footwear to use (depending on your job).
Health and Safety Myth: Every possible risk needs a safety sign
The reality: Health and safety does require safety signs but only when there is a significant risk in the workplace. However that doesn’t mean a business needs to have a sign for every risk.
If a risk is identified a risk assessment should be carried out and practical steps put in place to deal with it.
Health and Safety Myth: All office equipment must be tested by a qualified electrician every year
The reality: HSE’s advice is that for most office electrical equipment, visual checks for obvious signs of damage and perhaps simple tests by a competent member of staff are quite sufficient.
Health and Safety Myth: HSE has banned stepladders
The reality: Neither ladders nor stepladders have been banned by the HSE. Despite this, the allegation is regularly repeated.
A large number of workers are seriously injured or killed using ladders and stepladders each year. For some types of work a ladder or stepladder may be perfectly acceptable. To decide if a ladder or step ladder is the right equipment for the right job employ common-sense rules for using them safely.
Health and Safety Myth: People don’t have to take any responsibility for their own health and safety
The reality: Employers have a duty of care under UK health and safety law to protect workers and the public from dangers caused by their work. But health and safety isn’t just down to employers. Employees must also take responsibility for their safety (and others who may be affected by their actions).
It’s important that all workers follow the training they have been given when carrying out their job, don’t take risks, work safely and take care of your own and other people’s health and safety. The rules and regulations an employer puts in place is for a workers safety not something to try to circumvent because those rules and regulations make it harder to do your job.
Health and Safety Myth: There’s nothing you can do about slips and trips and they don’t really hurt anyone anyway
The reality: Most slips and trips are preventable and can happen when spills aren’t cleared up or clutter tidied away. Most slips occur because of wet floor conditions or leaks. Most trips can be attributed to poor housekeeping.
Health and safety statistics on the HSE website show slipping and tripping to be the single most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces. Slipping and tripping are also often what initially causes other types of accidents e.g. scalding, falls from height and machinery accidents. In 2015/16, 19% of an estimated 621,000 non-fatal injuries at work were caused by slipping and tripping.
Slips and trips can be easily prevented by taking a few simple and cost effective measures.
Health and Safety Myth: Kettles banned in offices
The reality: Kettles are not banned in offices. Instead like all other electrical equipment it should be checked for obvious signs of damage before use and simple checks carried out. A common sense approach should be given to handling hot drinks.
Health and Safety Myth: Risk assessments must always be long and complex
The reality: On its own, paperwork never saved anyone. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself – action is what protects people. So risk assessments should be fit for purpose and acted upon. OK, if you’re running an oil refinery you’re going to need a fair amount of paperwork. But for most, bullet points work very well indeed.
Please note although some of these health and safety myth stories may seem over the top health and safety should be taken seriously. It’s something we all need to understand and abide by!