The abuse of safety rules was revealed in the HSE report ‘Tell health and safety jobsworths to pull the other one’ compiled by the Myth Busters Challenge Panel. The panel was established to expose ‘health and safety’ excuses – with the aim of helping the public “fight back against jobsworths who use safety laws as a convenient ruse to ban legitimate activities”.
HSE chair Judith Hackitt, who leads the Myth Busters Challenge Panel, urged the culprits to admit their true motives.
"We never cease to be amazed by the cases we consider,” said Hackitt. “Why on earth do people think that they can get away with banning pint glasses with handles, bubbles at a birthday party, or burgers served anything other than well done, claiming they are a health and safety hazard?
“The reality is that people hide behind ‘health and safety’ when there are other reasons for what they’re doing – fear of being sued perhaps, or bad customer service. It’s time for them to own up to their real motives.”
‘Fear of being sued’
Hackitt said that bogus health and safety excuses overshadowed what health and safety is really about – “ensuring people return home without injury from their day’s work, every day”.
Employment minister Mark Hoban, the minister responsible for health and safety, said: “I despair when I read cases like these. Health and safety is there to protect people from serious risks, not to be abused by jobsworths who stop people getting on with their lives.
“Thanks to the panel we've already exposed 150 myths and we'll carry on holding people to account when they give health and safety a bad name.”
Topping the list of bogus excuses was a refusal to serve a pint in glass with a handle, reported by a woman who asked not to be named. The woman was told in a number of pubs and hotels that such glasses were illegal, due to health and safety reasons.
Health and safety law
The panel ruled: “There is no occupational health and safety law preventing the use of glasses with handles. Health and safety should not be an excuse to justify decisions made for other reasons and the pub should be challenged to explain the real reason for no longer offering glasses with handles.”
In another case, David Hope, aged 40, from London, was told by a hotel chain that it was unable to serve burgers rare because of health and safety rules.
Hope said: "I’d ordered a steak and asked for it to be cooked blue. The waiter then came back from the kitchen to say they had run out of steaks. I asked what else they had and the waiter said they had burgers, which were made from mince taken from the same steaks. I asked for it to be cooked the same way and the waiter said they were not allowed to, for health and safety reasons. I spoke to the manager, who was insistent this was the case.”
Hope said it was important to challenge such myths. “We have to challenge this – otherwise, when it’s something that matters and when it’s something that might put someone in danger, people will be turned off and won’t pay attention because of all the trivia that gets blamed for health and safety.”
Other bogus health and safety cases involved:
- A hotel refusing to deliver room service meals to residents in an attached apartment block
- Toothpicks removed from the table of a restaurant
- Shredded paper banned from a school fete’s lucky dip stall
- A cot bed that could not be made up by a hotel chamber maid.