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August 23, 2012

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HSE challenge panel kept busy fighting the good fight

If there’s something weird, and it don’t sound good, who you gonna call? Myth-busters!

The HSE has released a summary of the main cases dealt with by its Myth-Busters Challenge Panel, set up four months ago to scrutinise bogus decisions made by non-regulators in the name of health and safety – and it certainly makes interesting reading.

More than 50 cases have been brought to the Panel’s attention by members of the public, including:

  • an outdoors store in Sheffield, which told customers that the Health and Safety at Work Act banned it from accepting dirty boots for return (the panel determined that the real reason was because the store had to pay a fee for cleaning them);
  • a female worker in a low-risk office, who was told by her boss that health and safety standards meant she was not allowed to wear summer footwear and must instead wear shoes with an enclosed toe and supported heel (the panel ruled that the company was misusing health ad safety as an excuse to enforce its dress code); and SHP’s favourite
  • a budget airline, which refused on grounds of health and safety to provide a blanket for a passenger who was cold but nevertheless told her it could sell her a blanket for £5 if necessary. The panel called this “a blatant case of health and safety being used gratuitously to cover up poor customer service, or a commercial decision”.

Commenting on the myths, Employment minister Chris Grayling said: “Words fail me when I hear such obviously absurd excuses being made in the name of health and safety. The Myth-Busters Challenge Panel is helping the man and woman on the street to fight back against the jobsworths.”

IOSH’s head of policy, Richard Jones, added: “Health and safety professionals are trying to prevent the thousands of deaths and serious injuries happening each year due to work, and this kind of nonsense is just undermining us.
“Health and safety law only requires sensible and reasonable actions, so if it is being blamed for something that sounds ridiculous, it’s probably not a health and safety issue. We fully support the Challenge Panel; we think it will help ‘shine a light’ on these crazy decisions.”

The Myth-Busters Challenge Panel was launched in April this year to curb the worst examples of health and safety misuse. The independent panel comprises members from a wide range of interests and is headed up by HSE chair Judith Hackitt. Its aim is to provide prompt advice for people who are subject to ridiculous, or disproportionate health and safety decisions.

A secondary purpose is to help improve public perception of health and safety by counteracting negative stories. The national media do seem to be getting the message, with many outlets that have hitherto only reported the ‘health and safety as killjoy’ angle now also highlighting the Challenge Panel and its rulings to the contrary.
 

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