The UK government minister for health and safety, Mike Penning, has condemned organisations that ban harmless activities on health and safety grounds as "jobsworths". He has now written to schools and councils to highlight the misconceptions over health and safety after hundreds of complaints from the public.
Penning cited several well-documented recent cases including schools banning girls from wearing frilly socks to school or bringing baby chicks to class in case of bird flu; councils banning loose flowers in graveyards; and the banning of dog events from town halls; as examples of "health and safety gone mad".
"Enough is enough," he said. "Health and safety has long been used as a smokescreen by jobsworths who have little knowledge of the law and who want to fob people off with an easy excuse."
Penning's comments have been supported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has set up a "myth-buster panel" to debunk common myths about what actually constitutes health and safety.
Examples include a restaurant whose staff were told pork crackling couldn't be served as it might splash the chef, a flag that had to be removed from inside a window and an inspection being ordered to allow a screw to be inserted into a wall.
The HSE's chairwoman, Judith Hackitt CBE, said: "Real health and safety is about protecting people in the workplace from life and health threatening risks - it is not about stopping a child taking a baby chick into school, or banning indoor dog training. Own up to the real reasons behind the decision, don't just reach for the easiest excuse."
However, it is possible that in these litigious times schools, councils and companies are simply terrified of being held liable if something goes wrong on their premises. Earlier this year it was reported that schools in London, Manchester and Birmingham paid out over £3.3m in compensation to parents after children were injured while in their care.
In 2012, the Health and Safety Executive lauch a "myth busters" initiative.
It published 10 cases where Health and Safety legislation had been wrongly applied or invoked, on its website. Here they are, in all their glory:
TOP 10 RIDICULOUS ABUSES OF HEALTH AND SAFETY LEGISLATION
1. Driver refused to allow customer on bus with hot drink because of health and safety
A bus driver refused to let a passenger on with a cup of hot coffee on "health and safety" grounds. Of course there is no occupational health and safety legislation stopping people with hot drinks on to a bus, and while the company is free to determine its own policies (maybe spillage or littering in this case), they should not then cop out and blame it on health and safety.
2. Bar refused to let customer carry tray of drinks because they had not been "health and safety trained"
Tim Bannister, age 35, from Hampshire thought the bartender of a local restaurant was having a laugh when he was told he couldn't have a tray to carry drinks from the bar to his table in a local pub. It turned out that the bar had brought in this daft rule as some bright spark thought only people with specialist training could possible grapple with the rigours of balancing a tray of drinks!
Speaking later, Tim said: "It's was embarrassing but also laughable to be told I wasn't to be trusted with a tray! I have a responsible job and don't appreciate being told I can't handle a tray without training. Of course I knew this was nothing to do with real health and safety."
3. Charity shop has said that they cannot sell knitting needles for health and safety reasons
Maggie Croall, 57, from Homfirth was stunned when she went to her local charity shop to buy some knitting needles and was told the shop did not sell them for health and safety reasons! But the trained paediatric nurse smelled a rat and approached Myth Busters who confirmed no health and safety regulations apply to the sale of knitting needles and the panel saw no legitimate health and safety reason which could justify this decision. It urged the charity to reconsider its decision and at least come clean on the real reason for its decision.
Maggie said: "I know often shop assistants just fob you of with the health and safety excuse for everything, often they answer from the top of their heads without even thinking."
4. Public hall removed knives from kitchen on the grounds of health and safety
John Bull, 66, from Cambridgeshire knew a barmy decision when he spotted one when he discovered the local public hall did not allow knives in their kitchen! Most people agree that a knife is an essential kitchen tool, but someone at the hall obviously thought he knew better. John brought this daft decision to the attention of the Myth Busters who ruled that a knife ban in a kitchen was neither sensible nor proportionate, and certainly no laws existed banning them from their natural home!
John said: "I knew straight away it was a crackers decision, but I took it to the challenge panel who agreed with me. We see so many daft decisions being made in the name of health and safety I think more people should question these ridiculous decisions rather than just accepting them. I don't think people know what real health and safety is these days, with so many people hiding behind the phrase when these decisions are for other reasons entirely. If you are the victim of a crazy decision ask the challenge panel for their opinion. If more of us did this it would force decision makers think more carefully before making ridiculous rules".
5. Shop refused to put coffee in customer's own reusable cup on the grounds of health and safety
A coffee shop refused to fill a customer's own reusable cup with coffee, citing health and safety. The MBCP ruled there is no health and safety regulation preventing the use of reusable cups and advised the customer to ask the shop to explain the real reasons why his reusable cup remains empty.
6. Airline passenger told boiled sweets were no longer provided on the grounds of health and safety
Like most people Sandra Scott, 46, from Kingston finds sucking on a boiled sweet when flying relieves the air pressure in her ears during takeoff. So she was unimpressed on one airline when she requested a sweet from a member of the cabin crew only to be told that boiled sweets were no longer provided on the grounds of health and safety because children could choke on them! The fact Sandra, is an adult didn't seem to matter and anyway, she knew the health and safety excuse was a load of nonsense. HSE's MBCP sided with Sandra and found the issue does not relate to health and safety legislation and even the Civil Aviation Authority do not prevent boiled sweets being given out on flights, so only the airline knows why it embarked on this flight of fancy.
Company director, Sandra said: "I couldn't believe what I was hearing when the cabin crew refused me a sweet. I thought the air pressure was playing tricks with my ears! I knew there was no way this was a decision based on any health and safety law. It may just be the airline just wanted to save money on sweets, but I went to the Panel to expose this nonsense and they agreed wholeheartedly with me. I'd now like the airline to tell me the real reason for this mean minded ban."
7. Hotel chain does not provide floor towels due to 'Health and Safety'
A hotel chain does not provide floor towels for stepping out of the bath/shower due to 'Health and Safety' as people "could slip over".
Of course there is no health and safety regulation which prevents hotels from providing bath mats or towels in bathrooms says the Panel. It would be much better if the hotel chain explained the real reasons for their decision, rather than pretending it is motivated by concerns about health and safety.
8. Fish & chip shop told customer he could not have "batter scraps" for health and safety reasons
Aquatics development manager and part time lifeguard, Geoff Wade, originally from Whitley Bay, popped into a fish and chip shop after work in Dagenham where he now works for his traditional Friday night fish and chips. As is tradition in the North East, he asked for some extra fish batter scraps to complement his meal.
However, Geoff, 29, was left disappointed and bemused when the server denied him the tasty morsels for health and safety reasons. An unimpressed Geoff went straight to the Myth Busters to complain of this decision and the Panel agreed this was simply another case of health and safety being used as a casual excuse. They told Geoff that if the fish and chip shop owner has decided not to sell the batter scraps for whatever reason, then that was up to them, but health and safety was a lazy excuse.
Geoff said: "I've been served batter scraps from chip shops in the North all my life, but in Dagenham, despite the server sieving out fresh scraps from the same fryer the fish came out of, they wouldn't serve me them because of 'health and safety reasons', which is obviously ridiculous!"
Geoff, who will be taking part in the North Sea Volunteer Lifeguards' Boxing Day Swim (an annual event that has not been cancelled due to bogus health and safety concerns), added "After jumping in the North Sea for the fish to nibble on my frozen bits, its comforting to know at Whitley Bay's sea front chippies I'll be able to nibble some fried bits without some jobsworth using non-existent health and safety rules!"
9. School bans yo-yos on health and safety grounds
A school has banned the use of yo-yos on health and safety grounds.
In exactly the same way as the now legendary conker myth, there is no health and safety law which bans yo-yos from schools. Like many toys, there will always be a risk of yo-yos causing minor injuries; it seems a bit over the top to ban them from the school though.
10 Office workers advised that kettles and microwaves were not allowed due to health and safety requirements
Office workers were advised that kettles and microwaves are not allowed due to health and safety requirements and that insurance would be needed at a cost to the employer. There is no health and safety law prohibiting the use of kettles and microwaves in the office. The office workers have been misinformed. It would be much better if their employer explained their real concerns about having this equipment in the office.