Health and Safety in the Workplace

Understanding the difference between actual health and safety laws and the many myths surrounding this issue.

Health and safety myths exposed

Understanding the difference between actual health and safety laws and the many myths surrounding this issue is important for both businesses and their employees.

Health and safety in the workplace is an issue which often gets a bad press, with many in the media blowing instances of perceived incongruity between practicable safety advice and the government acting as a ‘nanny state’ out of proportion.

That said, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is going to great lengths to dispel many of the myths that surround health and safety in the UK, as it looks to drive awareness of the necessary role it undertakes in safeguarding employees and the public against injury.

The importance of health and safety laws

Gary Lee, chartered legal executive at Hayward Baker, noted ignorance and misinformation lie at the heart of the notion that ‘elf and safety has gone mad’, as this is certainly not the case.

Indeed, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents wholeheartedly supports the process of ensuring employers are held accountable for foreseeable injuries to their staff, while at the same time helping to reduce the likelihood of such injuries occurring in the first place.

According to the organisation, 26.4 million working days were lost in the UK in 2010-11 as a result of injuries in the workplace and despite efforts to improve health and safety practices up and down the country, while more than 600,000 individual cases of workplace injury are reported each year.

As a result, having a system of best practice guidelines and strong legislation to help enforce these procedures is essential, as failure to do so can lead to life-changing injuries for those unfortunate enough to get hurt.

“Even worse the government [is] seeking to reduce the obligations on employers [to] meet certain requirements on the basis of reducing what they believe is ‘red tape’,” Mr Baker noted.

Launched in June last year, the government’s Red Tape Challenge aims to streamline the health and safety process for UK firms, but it runs the risk of reducing accountability as the onus on proving breaches in health and safety law is to be shifted from the employer to the employee.

“While this is good for the profits of businesses who will inevitably feel less inclined to pay attention to the safety of their employees, you do have to feel for those people, and their families, who are injured or even killed as a result,” he added.


Incredible myths exposed

There have been a multitude of incredible health and safety myths that have popped up over the years, with the HSE now doing all it can as part its ongoing Myth Busters Challenge Panel to highlight to the public how far-fetched and downright false these supposed ‘rulings’ have been.

For example, a few years ago stories emerged that the age-old right of children playing conkers was under threat, as kids in the future would be unable to do so without wearing protective goggles. This was something that was patently ridiculous, but it did not stop many safety scaremongers reporting the falsehood as fact.

One myth that many business continue to fall prey to each year is that of the HSE banning the putting up of office decorations due to fears over workers injuring themselves.

This is a fable that has been around for many years, but what businesses need to remember is that as long as the people decorating workspaces do so in a safe and supervised manner – using stepladders rather than standing on desks for example – then the ‘bah humbug!’ myth protagonists have nothing to worry about.

Meanwhile, other falsehoods that have gained considerable notoriety in the past include the banning of candyfloss on sticks over fears people could trip and impale themselves, the banning of traditional school ties in favour of clip-ons to avoid choking hazards and trapeze artists across the country being ordered to wear hard hats.

Mr Baker concluded: “Though some of the myths that seem to be peddled by certain sections of the press are quite depressing. At its heart the health and safety of workers, school children and the general public is obviously in everyone’s interest.”

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Health and Safety in the Workplace
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