We've all seen them... outrageous stories in the newspapers and on TV about some seemingly harmless activity being "banned" because of "health and safety".
They make great headlines and often leave us fuming about some over-zealous busybody killjoy with a clipboard imposing barmy health and safety rulings. In truth, it is almost always nothing to do with actual Health and Safety legislation, but simply someone making their own bizarre decisions and using the 'health and safety' tag to justify them.
The Health and Safety Executive is actually engaged in very serious work which routinely saves lives by ensuring safe working practises and eliminating real risks and dangers. Not surprisingly, it is keen to expose some of the biggest "health and safety myths" – the daft decisions and ridiculous rules that are blamed on health and safety when in reality they have nothing to do with health and safety law. Here are the top ten myths:
Children cannot play conkers without goggles and gloves: This is a classic myth, you might even say 'an old chestnut'. It was a well-meaning headteacher who first decided children in his school should wear safety goggles to play conkers. The myth grew, with some schools adding padded gloves and other banning conkers outright, all leading to the well-worn 'health and safety gone mad' headlines.
Office workers banned from putting up Christmas decorations: Stories of offices banning decorations or requiring them to be put up by a "qualified person" come around every year. Most organisations, including the HSE, manage their decorations without any fuss. Simple commonsense precautions like not standing on wheeled swivel chairs are all that's needed.
New regulations require trapeze artists to wear hard hats: Another myth which was widely reported and is utter nonsense. Hard hats are designed to protect against falling debris or bumped heads and are great for the building site, but not the flying trapeze!
'Pin the tail on the donkey' banned at children's parties: Stories spread like wildfire about the dangerous cocktail of blindfolds and drawing pins leading to a 'health and safety ban' on this classic party game. Again, utter nonsense and possibly even a marketing ploy to increase sales of new 'non-threatening' party games.
Candy floss on a stick banned in case people fall and impale themselves: The truth is there are no health and safety laws banning candy floss on a stick. It is simply easier to store and lasts longer when sold in plastic bags or tubs.
Floral hanging baskets banned in case people bump their heads on them: Back in 2004 one town briefly took down its municipal hanging baskets over fears that older lampposts might collapse under the weight. After quick checks they were restored and have gone up every year since, but the story still comes back every year that hanging baskets are some kind of colourful death-trap which must be eradicated by crack squads of health and safety inspectors!
Schoolchildren must wear clip-on ties: This story went that traditional knotted school ties had been "banned by health and safety" because children could be strangled by them. In truth, millions of schoolchildren have worn traditional ties for generations without any problem. Simple precautions like removing them for lab work or in the woodwork or metalwork class make sense, but if it's a case of children strangling each other, that's a matter for school discipline, not health and safety.
All park benches must be replaced because they are too low: Even the HSE was taken by surprise by this story on new regulations requiring park benches to be a specific height, three inches higher than most in the UK. In reality, there are no such regulations, so don't expect to see inspectors with tape measures patrolling your local park any time soon.
Flip-flops are banned from the workplace: On hot summer days the idea of wearing sandals and flip-flops to work is an appealing one. Some firms may ban them if they are considered unsuitable or unsafe for the workplace, but there is no health and safety law on this.
Graduates not allowed to throw their mortar boards in the air: This is a popular story for the summer 'silly season' when there isn't much real news about. There is nothing in health and safety law to stop graduates celebrating in the time-honoured fashion. It is far more likely that a university asked students not to do it because of concerns about the hats being returned to hire companies in good condition.
So next time you see a "health and safety gone mad" headline, you might need to take it with a pinch of salt. Just don't throw the salt over your left shoulder for good luck – it's banned by health and safety you know! (Yep, that's a myth too!)