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12 months of myth busting

It’s 12 months now since the launch of the Myth Busters Challenge Panel, which has been a real success. It has probably done more than any other initiative to get behind the headlines and set the record straight about health and safety. It’s far from job done but we are making good progress.

We’ve uncovered and exposed abuses and misuses of health and safety right across Britain, and seen ‘health and safety’ trotted out to justify all sorts of ridiculous decisions.

The first case we dealt with involved an allotment owner being wrongly told to remove a children’s swing on health and safety grounds. But for much of the year it has felt like we were on a roundabout – the same underlying issues coming back into focus, time and again.

We analysed the first 100 cases, and found that 38 were poor customer service or people simply making an excuse for an unpopular decision. Fear of civil litigation and the need to do things to get insurance coverage crop up regularly too. Almost a quarter involved disproportionate, over the top interpretation of the regulations. It’s also clear that there is a good deal of confusion between health and safety and other legislation such as food, hygiene and fire regulations.

Basic communication failures when explaining the reasons for a decision often lead to confusion – is it really too much to expect people to explain the reasons for their decision rather than just saying "elf’n’safety innit, guv"?

I suppose it’s easy to understand why poor customer service keeps cropping up – if the real motives were properly explained many more of us would be likely to take our custom elsewhere. I love the fact that a friend of the chap who was refused a toothpick in a restaurant on elf n safety grounds bought the place – there’s one restaurant where he won’t be getting dodgy excuses in future!

Over interpretation of regulations regularly appears – sometimes because it is easier to impose a blanket rule across a whole site rather than apply a risk based approach. But at the core of proper health and safety is reasonableness and a sense of proportion, driven by a need to protect people from serious threats to their wellbeing at work. Regular readers of my blog will know my views on hi-viz in this context.

If we are ever going to restore the reputation of health and safety, myth busting will need to become a popular cause rather than being HSE led. We’ll continue to play our part, and work to tackle the root causes. But we need many more members of the health and safety community in particular to champion sensible, proportionate decision making and to be willing to speak up when things are good enough rather than chasing ever decreasing levels of risk. That would be something to celebrate.

2016-04-13