Health and safety myths – busted!

Health and safety myths – busted!

I’m guessing that most readers know that fabulous television programme, MythBusters. Well, in this issue of SHEQ MANAGEMENT, I am going to attempt to dispel some of the most widely believed health and safety myths! Here goes …

There are many myths that prevail in our industry – some amusing and others downright ridiculous. Here are some of the most prevalent …

Myth: Every possible risk needs a safety sign

Reality: People who speak less are more likely to be heard. The same applies to signs. Using too many signs simply guarantees no one will read any of them. Safety signs are useful when there’s a significant risk that can’t be avoided or controlled in any other way. But that doesn’t mean you should add a sign for every possible risk, however trivial.

Where there are serious risks in your workplace, don’t just rely on signs – take practical steps to deal with them. If you do need a sign, make sure it has the right symbol, make sure it is cross-culturally understandable and, of course, that it is clearly visible.

Myth: Risk assessments must always be long and complex

Reality: On its own, paperwork never saved anyone. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself – action is what protects people. So risk assessments should be fit for purpose and acted upon.

Obviously if you’re running an oil refinery you’re going to need a fair amount of paperwork. But for most, bullet points work very well.

Myth: If a pupil is hurt, the teacher is likely to be sued

Reality: The main legal duties lie with the employer, not the teacher – or even the headmaster, unless they own the school and employ the staff.

Over the years a handful of teachers have been prosecuted overseas following very serious incidents, but only where they failed to follow direct instructions and departed from common sense. Teachers who act responsibly will be on the right side of the law.

Myth: People don’t have to take any responsibility for their own health and safety

Reality: Employers have a duty to protect workers and the public from dangers caused by their work. But health and safety isn’t entirely someone else’s responsibility.

We all have a duty to keep ourselves safe, by cooperating with safety measures and not putting ourselves or others in danger. This is just common sense – something we all use every day.

It’s important that we aren’t put at risk by other people’s actions, but if we ignore our own responsibilities, real risks can get missed. Playing the blame game doesn’t keep people safe – better to rely on common sense and cooperation.

Myth: Ice cream toppings have been banned for safety reasons

Reality: We were recently surprised to learn that ice cream toppings had been banned amid health and safety fears. This rumour came from an ice cream parlour in England giving out extra toppings in separate containers, instead of pouring them over the ice cream. They were concerned that people might slip on any spills.

It’s important to prevent slips – they remain the most common cause of major injuries.

But, in this case, simply clearing up any spills as they occurred would have stopped people slipping and would have helped the company continue to make great ice cream taste even better!

Myth: Hanging baskets banned as a result of health and safety laws

Reality: Back in 2004 a town in the United Kingdom did briefly take down its hanging baskets over fears that old lampposts would collapse. This was an overly-cautious reaction to a low risk. However, after quick checks the hanging baskets were replaced and have been on lampposts in the town every year since.

Despite this, the story continues to be repeated and the danger is someone will believe it is a genuine requirement and follow suit.

Myth: Heat from radio waves and the potential for sparks mean mobiles should ON NO ACCOUNT be switched on at petrol stations

Reality: According to Tracey Brown and Michael Hanlon, authors of ln The Interests Of Safety, petrol is not as flammable as we suppose. Dropped cigarettes do not light petrol. The chances of a mobile device’s spark doing so are virtually nil. There is no known case of a mobile igniting petrol. It turned out there’s no evidence of mobiles interfering with hospital equipment, either, whereas walkie-talkies do. As a result, many medics now carry mobiles – and they don’t kill anyone.

Myth: Health and safety has gone mad!

Reality: There are few greater myths than that health and safety has gone mad. During the past four years we’ve debunked some truly ridiculous misrepresentations of health and safety, including the banning of conkers, firemen’s poles and park benches. We’ve scotched scare stories about excessive safety signs, rebutted rumours about onerous risk assessments and kicked back at claims that kids need to be wrapped in cotton wool.

This trivialisation confuses businesses about their responsibilities and workers about their rights. Health and safety is about saving lives, not stopping them!

• This article contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence.

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