Every year, at this time, we in Peninsula’s Health and Safety Consultancy are amazed by the press and media reports quoting health and safety as the reason for various restrictions on Christmas decorations and celebrations. We should, by now, be used to this kill-joy persona we are given.

It beggars belief that last year officials in Market Harborough, Leicestershire cancelled a visit by Santa, his sleigh and (real) reindeer to the town square because it had snowed. The snow on the pavements would be a risk to those attending! Wasn’t that same snow on those same pavements a similar risk to the people doing their shopping? Why then didn’t they close the pavements altogether? Maybe a little extra salt on the pavements would have helped. Surely the citizens of Market Harborough would have recognised the need for sturdy and appropriate footwear.

This is not our approach; Christmas is a time for celebration and happiness, not for being dull and miserable. Christmas trees, Christmas decorations and seasonal events may bring new hazards and risks but they are easily controlled by the application of common sense and basic precautions. Yes, you need to assess the risks and take precautions but this should not be turned into a complicated bureaucratic process. In simple cases you can do it in your head. There’s no need to write down the results if the assessment is obvious and can easily be repeated. 

So when it comes to putting up decorations in the workplace it really is quite easy. The hazards are usually working at height, electricity, trailing cables and fire. They are easily controlled by:

• providing staff with suitable step ladders to put up decorations rather than expecting them to stand on desks or balance on office chairs;
• making sure that decorations are not put up where they will increase risks, for example close to lights or heaters that may increase the risk of fire;
• making sure that Christmas trees are sensibly placed – not close to potential sources of ignition and not blocking fire escape routes or exits;
• using low voltage decorative lights that are checked and free from obvious defects; and
• making sure that trailing cables do not create a tripping hazard.

It is a complete myth that health and safety law doesn’t allow Christmas decorations in the workplace. You will find that most employers, including HSE and local councils, manage to put up their decorations and celebrate the spirit of Christmas without a fuss.

Where you read that decorations have not been allowed or an event cancelled because of health and safety you will usually find another underlying reason. Often the real reason is to save money, so why don’t they tell the truth and say we can’t afford it this year. Sometimes the hidden message is simply that we don’t want to or can’t be bothered. 

If you want to put up decorations or celebrate in some other way do it. Take the simple everyday precautions required; just remember to consider each situation because every one is unique. With a little common sense there’s no reason at all why staff shouldn’t enjoy the festive season at their workplace.

Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to all.

If you need any advice on how to avoid Health and Safety issues during the festive period, please contact our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.