“Elf 'n' Safety” Myths Debunked by the Health and Safety Executive
If certain national newspapers are to be believed, health and safety laws exist solely to spoil the fun of school children, to put ridiculous restrictions on public events and to prevent bosses from making a profit due to the endless, and excessive, limitations that these laws impose on us. Whether it is football in schools, chairs in Cathedrals or firefighters wading into ponds, 'safety chiefs' are apparently responsible for banning anything and everything on spurious “elf 'n' safety” grounds.
So is this an accurate reflection of health and safety law? Is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) primarily responsible for cancelling fun whenever it glimpses any? Or is it possible that there is another side to the story?
In response to the vast numbers of these stories in the media, the HSE has implemented “Busting the health and safety myths”, in which they explain or debunk “'elf 'n' safety” stories with logic and reasoning.
A recent example was when Bruce Springsteen performed in a festival in London and his performance was ended early, the decision being blamed on health and safety rules. Kevin Myers, the Deputy Chief Executive of the HSE, as well as an attendee at the concert, said, “The fans deserve the truth: there are no health and safety issues involved here. While public events may have licensing conditions dictating when they should end, this is not health and safety and it is disingenuous of Live Nation to say so”.
And when Skegness town council were designing a statue of the Jolly Fisherman for the town, they were incensed that its arms had to be held close to its body, because of “the issue of health and safety”. Rosi Edwards, the regional Director at HSE, patiently explained that there is not any health and safety law about statues having their arms outstretched, going on to say, “We expect people to have a bit of common sense when it comes to identifying and managing risk - not to eliminate every minor hazard from everyday life”.
Reports like these make a mockery of the serious and important role of health and safety legislation and guidelines. Health and Safety at work rules are there to help to ensure the safety of those in the premises. Nobody wants a return to unaccountable bosses allowing devastating accidents to occur in order to save money or increase productivity with no legal recourse. When people turn up at work, they expect avoidable serious risks to be removed and responsible rules and guidelines to be in place.
Mike Wilcock, Head of Operations for the South East for the HSE sums it up: “Health and safety laws exist to protect workers and others from death, serious injury and ill health at work, not to ruin children's playtime”.
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(Photograph of Bruce Springsteen. Credit: Craig O'Neal)