Christmas is a great time of year both at home and at work. It’s a time when people can relax and have a bit of fun. However each year health and safety is cited (wrongly) as the reason why something can’t be done putting a damper on the festive mood. This article looks at a list of updated festive health and safety myths courtesy of the Health and Safety Executive.
Xmas H&S Myth #1: Workers are banned from putting up Christmas decorations in the office
The reality: Bah Humbug! Each year we hear of companies banning their workers from putting up Christmas decorations in their offices for ‘health and safety’ reasons, or requiring the work to be done by a ‘qualified’ person. Most organisations including HSE and local councils manage to put up their decorations, celebrating the spirit of Christmas without a fuss. They just sensibly provide their staff with suitable step ladders to put up decorations rather than expecting staff to balance on wheelie chairs. This is one of many health and safety myths we hear about regularly!
Xmas H&S Myth #2: Indoor Christmas lights need a portable appliance test (PAT) every year
The reality: Lots of companies waste money in the false belief they need to test their Christmas lights annually, or even don’t put them up at all! By following a few sensible precautions, such as checks by the user for obvious signs of damage, every workplace can switch on safely and sparkle! Another one of many health and safety myths you can put to bed.
Xmas H&S Myth #3: You can’t throw out sweets at pantos
The reality: Health and safety rules were blamed when a panto stopped throwing out sweets to the audience. In fact they were worried about the cost of compensation if anyone got hurt. Realistically, if a panto throws out sweets the chances of someone being seriously hurt is incredibly low. It’s certainly not something HSE worries about – as far as we’re concerned, this is a case of ‘Oh yes you can!’
Xmas H&S Myth #4: Traditional shopping centre Christmas trees scaled back or replaced by artificial alternatives
The reality: We often hear excuses about the way shops and town centres have (or haven’t!) been decorated,especially if they appear less festive than in previous years. These include traditional Christmas trees being scaled back or replaced with artificial alternatives for ‘health and safety’ reasons. A traditional Christmas tree will probably cost a bit more and perhaps that’s one of the real reasons behind these decisions – but let’s be clear, health and safety laws exist to prevent people being seriously injured or made unwell at work, they are certainly not there to ‘cut down’ the festive spirit!
Xmas H&S Myth #5: Seats removed from shops – despite weary Christmas shoppers wanting to rest their feet
The reality: Give it a rest! When Christmas shoppers have been dashing through the crowds for those last minute bargains all they want is a quick sit down to rest their weary feet. So you can imagine their dismay when they find all the seats have been removed for ‘health and safety’ reasons! Of course shops need to manage crowds of people safely, but it’s a myth to suggest that it’s a requirement to remove seats at busy times, instead a bit of common sense should ensure seating is located in a sensible place.
Xmas H&S Myth #6: Carol singers are a health and safety risk
The reality: Surely no-one would object to hearing the dulcet tones of carol singers serenading us in the run up to Christmas! Well, in the past few years we’ve heard of insurance companies producing comprehensive ‘health and safety’ guides for people wishing to take part in this age old tradition, and parish councils ordering groups of singers to apply for a permit in order to stop them upsetting home-owners. Well-intentioned pieces of advice such as ‘don’t sing in the road’ and ‘don’t carry large amounts of cash’ are not health and safety requirements, they are simple common sense.
Xmas H&S Myth #7: Children are banned from throwing snowballs
The reality: Every year we hear inaccurate stories about children who aren’t allowed to throw snowballs, and swimmers who can’t take their traditional winter dip in the local lake. All this in the name of health and safety. If we spend time on the trivial risks there’s a chance we’ll miss the most important ones. We need to focus on finding ways for things to happen, not reasons to stop them – a sensible approach to managing risk focuses on practical action to tackle risks that cause real harm and suffering.
Xmas H&S Myth #8: Health and safety prevents people putting coins in Christmas puddings
The reality: Finding a coin in your pudding on Christmas day – it’s a tradition that’s lasted for more than 500 years and is said to grant you a good luck wish for the coming year. However, killjoys have been stirring up trouble saying it’s too risky to put coins inside puddings for ‘health and safety’ reasons. Occupational health and safety law is concerned with what goes on in your workplace, not what you’re eating after a Turkey dinner – it doesn’t prevent coins or any other lucky charms being put in puddings. If we had one wish, it would be to stamp out the health and safety Scrooges who try to dampen the Christmas spirit. This is one of those health and safety myths that understandably gains momentum but is untrue!
Xmas H&S Myth #9: Health and safety bans bunting
The reality: There are no regulations banning people from hanging bunting at Xmas, weddings, village fetes or flying flags for sporting events. HSE encourages people to have a bit of common sense about their attitudes to risk, not to make everything risk-free. There won’t be an army of inspectors cutting down bunting or insisting flags are lowered. HSE exists to prevent people being killed or seriously injured at work, not to stop people celebrating in style.
Xmas H&S Myth #10: You cannot clear snow and ice from outside your business or home
The reality: The simple answer is no. You can clear snow and ice from pavements yourself. There is no law to prevent the clearing of snow outside your house, business or on the pavement. But be sure to do it properly, otherwise you can end up making the slippery surfaces worse. Even the Department for Transport offers reassurance. Their advice states – “don’t believe the myths – it’s unlikely you’ll be sued or held legally responsible for any injuries if you have cleared the path carefully.”
If you’ve heard of any other health and safety myths let us know and we’ll add them to next years health and safety myths. In the meantime if you are in doubt of your health and safety responsibilities please contact for a health and safety consultancy on 01795 500816 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.