In recent years there has been significant focus on whether we have become a nation obsessed with ‘health and safety’ resulting in the introduction of what are often considered to be ludicrous rules stopping us all from having fun. The government has fully supported this perception with the Prime Minister announcing in January 2012 that he intended to kill the “health and safety monster”. In reality, most of the health and safety rules you read about have been completely made up by someone using it as an easy excuse to ban something for some other reason.
Only last week a story was circulating about a school banning triangle shaped flapjacks because they were dangerous and created a health and safety issue. The story arose as a result of a child being hit in the eye by the triangular treat, which was thrown by a fellow pupil, and suffering an injury. In response, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who are becoming fed up of being the scapegoat with these health and safety myths, confirmed that there are no rules which would require such a ban to be imposed and correctly identified that the problem doesn’t lie with the shape of the flapjack but with the fact that the pupils were throwing them at each other.
The HSE has now spoken out about this issue with Judith Hackett, HSE Chair, commenting that “The reality is that people hide behind health and safety when there are other reasons for what they’re doing”. Last year the HSE set up a Myth Busters Challenge Panel which looks at cases where people have used health and safety as an excuse for stopping legitimate activities. Since being set up 150 cases have been found to use non-existent rules to stop activities which were perfectly safe and the HSE continue to ask the public to send details of the nonsense rules they are being told to the panel.
The HSE are concerned that with the continued publication of farcical health and safety rules, for further example, restaurants banning tooth picks, banning bubbles from children’s parties and bar’s not serving pints in glasses with a handle (none of which are actually supported) that it eclipses the true purpose of genuine health and safety laws. The real laws and regulations exist to provide important safeguards against people being seriously injured or made unwell at work by taking sensible precautions. The UK does have more legislation about health and safety than many of our European counterparts but as a result of this we also on average have fewer work related fatalities and less work related illness.
In addition and linked to this supposed health and safety craze, we are also reported to have developed a “compensation culture” in the UK. This is something that the government has been happy to refer to whilst implementing legal changes that will prohibit access to justice despite the fact that every government report on the issue has found the compensation culture likewise to be a myth. At the end of March 2013, Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson urged the government, courts and the legal profession to educate the public and address some of the media-created myths of the compensation culture. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen, not when alternatively there is a good tale about shredded paper being banned from a school fete’s lucky dip for fear of paper cuts. I wonder what they will come up with next?!
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