A further example of health and safety being given a bad press has recently come to light at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Students have been told that they are banned from throwing hats in the air at their graduation ceremony after reports of injuries by flying headwear in past years. It does appear that a commercial opportunity is linked to the ban, as graduates can pay £8 for a mortarboard to be photo-shopped into their souvenir photographs.
A University spokesperson confirmed that the ban had been imposed after previous issues and the practise is seen as “an unacceptable risk” with management keen to “ensure no student’s graduation day is ruined by the potential for avoidable injury”. It is understood that the hire company has also complained about damaged mortarboards.
A student commented that “UEA are ruining the experience of what should be a really brilliant day. They make pathetic rules without consulting students. It’s ridiculous. Those who made the decision haven’t just finished a degree, yet they’re tainting the experience for everyone.”
It seems strange that a Government wanting to do away with much of the “red tape” surrounding health and safety should concern itself the gentle pastime of Poohsticks. This is the game played by Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the stories written by AA Milne. Players drop sticks into a stream from one side of a bridge and turn around to see which one is first to appear on the other side. Hardly an activity fraught with danger. However, the official twitter account of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently decided to de-risk Poohsticks by tweeting “When playing #Poohsticks check bridge side barriers are safe height with no large gaps and structurally sound bridges with slow-flowing water.” This was soon followed by another tweet advising that children should not lean out over the bridge and should be supervised at all times by an adult. Following much ridicule directed towards the senders, the final message on the subject was an apology in which the department suggested the tweets were sent by mistake. Perhaps this department still has a way to go in its cost-cutting efforts!
Public Health England has warned supermarkets to ensure daffodil bulbs and cut bunches are kept far away from fruit and vegetable display areas, to “produce a separation in shoppers’ minds that will help to stop them thinking daffodils are edible.” Yes – really!
It is understood that an average of ten people a year are made ill by the consequences of such confusion, several of whom required admittance to hospital. The National Poisons Information Service gets calls too.
It seems to be all too easy for some folk to confuse the flowers and bulbs with spring chives and onions. Former Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe questioned the issuing of new advice, pointing out that when the country is supposed to be adopting austerity measures, the Government could save costs by stopping “this sort of rubbish”. Ann went on to say “Do they honestly think the public doesn’t have any common sense?”
The Christmas decorations are now well and truly packed up and back into storage for another year, but those at the British Heart Foundation’s charity shops didn’t see the light of day over the festive period. As discovered by a Darlington pensioner, Vivienne Hall, there was a distinct lack of decorations at the charity’s shops in her town. Vivienne decided to call the area manager and was advised that apparently the charity’s head office had instructed all the shops not to put up any decorations for “health and safety reasons”.
When contacted by a journalist from the Northern Echo, a spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation declined to answer specific questions as to what prompted the health and safety concerns and how this relates to Christmas decorations. In addition, the deputy retail director for the charity suggested that a real festive feel was generated by the cards, Christmas gifts, toys and party outfits available for sale.
Salix Homes, a social housing provider in Salford, has written to residents of a development in Higher Broughton to explain that flower pots lining communal pathways are causing “potential hazards to residents and visitors”. The customer support manager explains that due to health and safety concerns, the company will be monitoring the situation, and reserves the right to remove the offending receptacles.
Manchester Evening News reports that for the past five years, residents have decorated their neighbourhood with flowers including fuchsias, lilies and begonias. Not only that, but they were awarded prizes in the Summer Bloom competition for the last two years. The competition is organised by… Salix Homes!
The justification for this change of heart is said to be that Salix has received complaints about obstructions. However, resident Valerie Webb disputes this and explains that the pots are only on one side of the railings. When the newspaper article was brought to the attention of the Health and Safety Executive, they were keen to make everyone aware that there is nothing in health and safety legislation to require removal of the flowerpots. Salix is said to be “working with residents” to try and agree a solution to the problem.
Jim Higgins, a pensioner from Cumbria, replaced a dilapidated old fence at a footpath at the end of his garden after his dog got injured on a protruding metal spike. He also built a wooden seat for the comfort of passers-by. However, Sustrans, the charity responsible for the path have reported him to the police for theft of the old railings and have raised safety concerns over the bench he constructed.
Mr Higgins, a former police officer, has been unable to sleep properly whilst the enquiries continue. He thought he was doing everyone a favour but now is afraid that he may end up with a criminal conviction.
‘I admit I did it. When I mentioned my plans to replace the fence, they seemed pleased I was willing to sort it out’.
A neighbour said that everyone locally is happy with what Jim has done and they are aghast at the way he has been treated. Sustrans, who said they see health and safety as really important and they try to avoid any risks to the public, are waiting to hear whether the police wish to press charges. In the meantime they are making a claim to their insurers in connection with the original fence that Jim replaced.
According to an HSE analysis, people in London and the South East come up with more phoney health and safety excuses than people in any other part of the UK. More than fifty spurious “elf and safety” cases were reported from the region over the past year.
Examples of nonsensical interpretation of safety requirements include
- Cleaners at London Underground stations being banned from wearing woolly hats in winter
- A well-known department store discontinuing fried eggs for fear of a pan fire
- An airline flying from Heathrow who refused to serve boiled sweets to passengers suffering ear-ache.
Other stupidity from around the country included:
- A Kenilworth fishmonger who would not fillet a fish for a customer because it was too slippery
- A woman who had her parasol confiscated at a racetrack as it may cause danger to others
Norwich City Council have ordered that a rooftop garden must be dismantled
on health and safety grounds, just a year the Lord Mayor presented the proud
owner with an award for her efforts. Despite being judged the Best Floral
Display in Containers, Miss Annison’s potted plants have now been deemed
as too risky because they might obstruct residents if they had to evacuate in
a fire situation.
Miss Annison said that she had grown plants on her balcony
for a long time and had had no complaints from officialdom: “It’s been there
for 25 years and I’ve got permission for it on three different occasions. The
three flats here are all leaseholders and we want it to look nice. All
the neighbours like it. This decision means an established award-winning
25-year-old rooftop garden which is admired and appreciated by many
passers-by will have to be dismantled.”
A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: “Practices and
approaches to safety have changed over the years and we are having
discussions with residents to ensure all communal areas are safe.”
Castle View School on Canvey Island recently caused a bit of a flap when head teacher Gill Thomas ruled that triangular flapjacks were banned on health and safety grounds. The decision followed an incident where a Year 7 pupil alleged one that had been thrown by another pupil hit him in the eye. It is understood that the injured boy did not require any treatment, but was sent home to recover from his ordeal. A new safe working procedure, namely that flapjacks must always be cut into squares or rectangular shapes was imposed after a meeting attended by catering staff. Essex County Council distanced itself from the decision and the HSE said they had no issues with flapjacks of any shape.
The Government’s “Mythbuster” panel has discovered a few dubious rules and regulations invented by employers and others who try to use health and safety as an excuse for preventing activities. Former Employment minister Chris Grayling praised the fight back against jobsworths, and Judith Hackett from the Health and Safety Executive bemoaned the use of nonsensical health and safety rules as a smokescreen to justify unpopular decisions.
Examples included a ban on sleeping in camper vans on campsites, a golf course that prohibited the use of golf buggies, and cafes that refused to heat up baby food in case they were held liable for scalds and burns.
Another over-zealous decision to hit the headlines concerns a ban on taking umbrellas to a JLS concert in Sussex on a wet day. Organisers Spin Publicity collected them at the entrance, citing a health and safety risk. Mike Wilcock, HSE’s Head of Operations for the area, mused: “I wonder if it was more to do with making sure everyone could see the concert? If so, let’s be honest and not use health and safety as an excuse. After all, if there are concerns about people being poked in the eye, then it would follow that umbrellas should not be allowed on a busy high street or even used at all”.