'It's because of health and safety'- tackling myths and misunderstandings

HSE has developed this guidance to help you make health and safety decisions that are sensible and to challenge those that are questionable. You can also use it to share experience and understanding of sensible health and safety with colleagues.

How myths arise

Health and safety at work legislation is about reducing work-related death, serious injury and ill-health in the workplace. Unfortunately, health and safety is often used as a convenient excuse to stop activities going ahead, or to disguise unpopular decisions. Some simply use it as a catch-all phrase when they actually mean something quite different. It is no wonder people use health and safety as an opportunity to criticise local decision-making.

The nature of local authority services and activities means that councils face a broad and diverse range of risks which can demand complex decision-making. Councils often find themselves the focus of sensationalist media stories about health and safety - resulting in accusations of being 'jobsworths' or wrapping children in cotton wool.

Health and safety at work requirements are clear - they require a proportionate approach to risk, which facilitates the delivery of public services, activities and events that benefit the local community. Getting this right involves challenging  bureaucracy and poor decision-making – particularly where this has an impact on economic growth.

Busting the myths in local government

Councils can respond to these stories and lead by example in reducing bureaucracy and ensuring that approaches taken to manage risk are sensible and proportionate. Doing this well means that:

  • significant risks are properly managed
  • resources are not wasted on trivia
  • benefits that the local community and businesses derive from innovative, worthwhile activities are not lost and economic growth can be supported

Helping everyone in councils to focus on the real risks is an important part of raising health and safety performance. The three key questions below can help you – and those you work with - promote sensible health and safety decision-making and adopt a proportionate approach to risk management.

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Updated: 2024-02-09