The Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 fulfils a very real need for the protection of the health and safety of people at work where they are likely to be exposed to hazards and risks that are significant. By the end of this year the Act will have been in place unchanged for 40 years. Every government review of the legislation since it was introduced, there have been three in the life of this present government, has found no grounds to recommend change. Indeed on every occasion they have upheld the legislation as entirely suitable and fit for purpose.

Unfortunately however, there are many people and organisations who have jumped on health and safety as a reason to avoid doing something they don’t want or can’t be bothered to do to. They detract from the real purpose of the Act and have led to stories in the press characterised by the ‘elf and safety’ jobs-worths.

To counter those who take this approach the Health and Safety Executive set up a panel through which apparently silly health and safety rules could be challenged. Issues which it has considered have included

A parcel courier stating that for health and safety reasons customers cannot drop or pick up parcels at their local depot. On investigation it the company policy was found to be that parcels could be both dropped off and picked up at any of their depots. At one depot a manager had over-ridden the rule, using health and safety as an excuse, because it was commercially more advantageous to do home deliveries and pick up.

A deaf employee with a Hearing Dog who accompanies to work was told that it was against “health and safety” to empty and refill the dog’s water bowl with fresh water using the sink in the kitchen of the chill out area nearest to her workstation. She was expected to take the bowl into the toilets; going through three doors, two operated by a pass system, to dispose of the water and then collect cups of water from the kitchen to fill the bowl at her desk. The Health and Safety Executive response was that there are in fact no health and safety regulations which could conceivably stop the filling or emptying of a working dog’s water bowl in a kitchen area.

A school banned children from taking hot drinks in flasks on school trips. They said the ban was introduced “due to Health and Safety”. The Health and Safety Executive’s Challenge Panel response is that there is no health and safety legislation to prevent children from having hot food or drink in their packed lunches, whether for consumption in school or on school trips. If this is a school rule its purpose, the real reason behind it, should have been clearly explained and communicated to parents.

Sometimes the press can play the ‘elf n safety’ card unnecessarily. A couple of weeks ago they reported that a woman who went to hospital was banned from breastfeeding on the grounds of ‘elf n safety’. This wasn’t quite the truth. The woman had been advised not to bring young children to the hospital because the tests to be carried out on her required a long period of fasting beforehand – and in the hospital’s considerable experience this can lead to people fainting while the particular tests are being done.

The tests also require patients to sit still for two hours – extremely difficult to do if a small child is demanding attention. Seeing mum faint would be distressing for a small child to witness, and even worse if they were in her arms at the time. The advice was sound common sense.

This was a case of the press not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. The hospital had in fact given perfectly sensible practical advice.

That’s the key point, health and safety at work is about taking sensible pragmatic steps to control hazards and avoid risk based on the likelihood of injury and ill-health and its severity.

Peninsula’s Health and Safety Service clients will always receive that sensible pragmatic advice from their allocated consultant and can call our 24 Hour Advice Line for timely support and answers to issues as they arise.