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January 3, 2013

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Top ten daft decisions revealed by safety regulator’s challenge panel

The HSE’s Myth-Busters Challenge Panel dealt with 100 cases in its first nine months, ruling on “ridiculous excuses” relating to everything from knitting needles and chip-shop scraps to reusable coffee cups and yo-yos.

Revealing the top ten silliest decisions made in the name of health and safety last year the Executive said that 38 of the 100 cases reviewed by the Panel were down to “jobsworths making an excuse for an unpopular decision”, or just bad customer service.

Almost a quarter of the cases involved over-interpretation of legitimate guidelines, while a sixth were reported by people who had been given advice that confused health and safety with other regulations, or regulators.

The top ten include the story of a woman who was told by her local charity shop that they did not sell knitting needles “for health and safety reasons”; a public hall in Cambridgeshire, which did not allow knives to be stored in its kitchen; and a bar/restaurant, which refused to provide a customer with a tray to carry his drinks order to his table because he hadn’t been trained to do so!

In all of these cases, the Panel reassured the complainants that the reasons they had been given by the organisations in question had nothing to do with health and safety legislation. They were then encouraged to return to the offending organisation and ask it to come clean on the real reason for its decision.

Asked why the HSE does not name and shame the companies involved, or confront them itself, a spokesperson for the Executive told SHP: “The Panel was set up to empower members of the public to challenge ridiculous decisions. A lot of people get intimidated by someone in a high-vis jacket, or wielding a clipboard, so receiving an official view gives them the confidence to then go back and ask for a proper explanation.” 

The spokesperson explained that the Panel does not have the resources to investigate every complaint in detail and must take what it is told by complainants at face value. “For that reason, it would be unfair to ‘name and shame’ when we can’t fully verify all the facts.”

He continued: “Some have suggested that the Panel is a toothless tiger, but we never said it would be a tiger in the first place. The Panel does not act as a legal arbiter – it’s about addressing the broad point about nonsense health and safety, and continuing to chip away at changing people’s easy willingness to blame health and safety.”

Minister for safety Mark Hoban MP applauded the fight against “frustrating jobsworths” who “stop people from doing perfectly sensible things on the false pretence of health and safety”.

HSE chair Judith Hackitt agreed, saying: “Not only do the jobsworths who make these ridiculous edicts waste time and money, and interfere needlessly with harmless activities, they also undermine our efforts to reduce the number of people made ill, injured, or killed by their work.”

Complaints to the panel can be made via the HSE website.

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