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April 2, 2013

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A year of exposing crackpot health and safety claims

Bars that refuse to serve alcohol in glasses with handles, burgers that could not be cooked rare, and a council prohibiting the use of a bubbles machine at a child’s party – this is just a snapshot of the 150 cases referred to the HSE’s Myth Busters Challenge Panel since its launch a year ago.

The panel was established last April as a direct response to concerns that the reputation of the health and safety profession and regulatory regime were being tarnished by ‘jobsworths’, who were using health and safety as an excuse to conceal ulterior motives for placing bans on certain activities. At its outset, the panel’s brief was to consider complaints regarding advice from non-regulators and clarify whether this information reflects what the law actually requires.

Now, as the panel approaches its one-year anniversary, HSE chair Judith Hackitt, who heads up the panel of experts, has called on those imposing bogus bans to stop blaming health and safety and be more ingenuous about the real reasons behind their decisions.

Said Ms 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.”

Although the panel has no regulatory powers to compel organisations to reverse their decisions, there is some evidence it is having an influence. In one case, a venue banned the use of a bubbles machine at a girl’s sixth birthday party for ‘health and safety’ reasons. It made a hasty U-turn after her angry father contacted the panel to complain.

The team of experts ruled: “There are no health and safety regulations that would prevent the use of a bubble machine at a party. The so-called risks that have been cited – slipping on damp floor, bubbles in eyes, etc – have been grossly exaggerated.

“This is a sad case of a council hiding its own corporate policy behind the health and safety excuse and preventing young children having great fun at their party.”

In another case heard earlier this year, a woman contacted the panel after she was refused a pint glass with a handle, explaining that she had been told such glasses were now illegal owing to health and safety.

The panel told her: “There is no occupational health and safety law preventing the use of glasses with handles.”

In a further case, Londoner David Hope was told by a hotel chain that it was unable to serve burgers rare because of health and safety laws – something the panel was quick to refute.

Said David: “I find the whole idea pompous that, rather than think about something, people just spout ‘health and safety’. When you challenge them, and they can’t justify it, they then invent something – and the easiest one to hide behind is health and safety. It’s usually nonsense. I think the sooner you can burst the bubble of pomposity and get people to live with the consequences of their actions, the better.”

Ms Hackitt insisted that beyond the absurdity and seemingly trivial matters, the panel’s role in upholding the reputation of health and safety has a very serious element to it.

She said: “The sad fact is that while all this nonsense is being spouted, it overshadows what health and safety is really about – ensuring people return home without injury from their day’s work, every day.”€

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Alan
Alan
9 years ago

More like this awful government trying to use these myths through their friends in the press to erode conditions at work.

Andy
Andy
9 years ago

I don’t think the HSE suggest that eating undercooked burgers is safe, however there is a big difference between a customer choosing a “rare” burger and someone serving up undercooked burgers because they don’t know how to cook (or more likely defrost) a burger properly.
I like my steak rare, and the risk is the same as for burgers, I choose to accept that risk in order to fully enjoy my meal. I wouldn’t want a rare burger from a van in the street, or the ubiquitous “greasy spoon”

Andy
Andy
9 years ago

No-one has said there is no risk from rare burgers, however there is also no law about serving a burger rare if the customer requests it so restraunt owners should not say Health and Safety laws prevent them from serving burgers as the customer requests. Food hygeine standards might stipulate minimum cooking temperatures for minced beef, but that’s not health and safety law. In Germany mince can be (and often is) eaten raw. Myth as you say Busted.

Gareth
Gareth
9 years ago

No risk from rare burgers? Its clear they havent heard of e. coli 0157. Can I suggest that they read the Pennington Report – there are two of them.
Bacterial contamination occurs in the slaughterhouse during eviceration leading to the outide of cuts of meat being contaminated, cooking a steak rare kills the bacteria on the outside so a rare steak is safe to eat. Burgers on the other hand are minced so the bacteria is protected inside the food – hence the need to cook it through. myth busted

Ian
Ian
9 years ago

I was recently on a flight from holiday when the cabin manager declaired the curtains round the front galley had to be closed for H&S reasons, best known to themselves. Thus rendering the forward toilets out of bounds. The airline accommodated people with disabilities at the front of the plane and even gave then assisted access to the plane but insisted they used the toilets to the rear, while the staff had their break. A little organisation to give staff breaks in another area is all it needed

Maxbancroft
Maxbancroft
9 years ago

Were any of these alleged H&S rules ever suggested by a qualified H&S practitioner? And if so, was their risk assessment also challenged?

I’m not sure I like the idea of the HSE panel

Mmorris
Mmorris
9 years ago

My child suffered an e-coli infection after eating an undercooked burger and was very ill for several weeks and almost died. Burgers must be thoroughly cooked to protect people from deadly e-coli infections – it is extremely irresponsible for the HSE to suggest rare burgers are safe.

Smith
Smith
9 years ago

Yes, in our local paper, some time ago, there was a case of a child not being allowed candles on a birthday cake at her party which was held in a council-run centre. The reason – Health and Safety.