curiosity about the ways of the world

Myth of the month


You could have someone’s eye out with that

It’s been another good year for Health and Safety myths.  If you have five minutes to spare take a look at the Myth of the Month on the HSE website, it is a cracking good read. In  September they did not stop school kids wearing ties. In October they did not ban graduates from playing frisbee with mortar boards (eh?)and in November they did not stop school science experiments – in fact earlier this year HSE Chair Judith Hackitt set her hands alight to prove it.

Must admit, I’m struggling a bit with the image of a health and safety supremo setting fire to her hands ‘safely’ (to make a point about ‘sensible risk management’ in the science lab) but I am all for busting a few myths.  To be honest there is something slightly prissy about the HSE website – they do have to keep reminding us that common sense prevents accidents (and after all 180 people died at work last year, most of them in agriculture, manufacturing and construction).  But I have always suspected there is a great lack of common sense in the way most public organisations react to supposed Health and Safety rules.

We believe that risk management should be about practical steps to protect people from real harm and suffering – not bureaucratic back covering.

Isn’t it interesting to see how many of the myths relate to schools? Which makes me wonder about the possible mixed motives of parents, teachers and the newspapers that report these mythical bans. When I was at school I would have loved someone to ban ties (or maths and hockey sticks come to think of it). But no, HSE says they have no objection to ties – “if the concern is about kids fighting, although clip-on ties may help, the real issue is discipline.” And they don’t want to stop kids having fun in adventure playgrounds either, as long as the local authorities take sensible risk assessments to make sure the equipment is safe.


Jacqui assess Wind and Bamboo risks

So, no they don’t ban hanging baskets, bonfires, or flip-flops at work – and they don’t say all concert-goers must wear earplugs though they do say that employers in noisy places should ensure workers have protection against going deaf.

Perhaps, just perhaps, people like to hide behind Health and Safety rules to save themselves the bother of carrying out a risk assessment. When I was involved in organising the Wind and Bamboo event at the Botanics last year we carried out a fairly rigorous assessment (thank you Jacqui!) and probably indulged in a few myths in the process. I don’t think it is Health and Safety that stops people serving hot tea on a cold night, it is the fear that someone will sue if they get burned. (We served hot tea anyway!)

However, it is good to see that HSE statistics show fewer people are getting killed and injured at work. We just need to bust the myths that give people an excuse to stop having fun.  Don’t be surprised if you get the 2010 Myth of the Month calendar for Christmas, I am going to send off for a bulk order very soon.


In the end there was nothing we could do about the biggest risk of all – but despite appalling weather it was a good show all the same and no-one slipped, poked their eye out with an umbrella or got burnt with hot tea.


  1. Administrator

    I think you might have been over-ruled…

  2. Dougal

    Good point, well made. People get too hung up on following the rules, which is even more ridiculous when the supposed rules that they are following aren’t even rules in the first place, if you see what I mean. (Perhaps I should have done more risk assessment on that final dram last night…)

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