It's health and safety gone... very sensible

Safety myths that saw knives banned in kitchens and umbrellas banned in the rain have been debunked by the Government's health and safety watchdog.

Sam Masters
Sunday 23 December 2012 23:13 GMT
Traditional conker matches between schoolchildren are banned as they represent a safety risk
Traditional conker matches between schoolchildren are banned as they represent a safety risk

The Health and Safety Executive's so-called "myth-buster" panel was established this year to expose the incorrect decisions that led to hundreds of public complaints. Today, the first 100 cases it has responded to can be revealed. Judith Hackitt, its chairwoman, said the time and money spent on these "ridiculous edicts" undermined the executive's real purpose: to reduce the number of people made ill, injured or killed by their work.

Tray training

The Claim: Carrying a drinks tray from pub bar to table is just too dangerous for those without adequate training

The Truth: Tim Banister, 35, from Hampshire, was told he could not carry a drinks tray in the pub as a new rule meant "specialist training" was required. "It was embarrassing but also laughable to be told I wasn't to be trusted with a tray," the occupational adviser said. The HSE said no regulations governed the carrying of drinks trays – something people are likely to do in their own home.

A nurse needled

The Claim: Paediatric nurse Maggie Croall was not allowed to buy knitting needles from a charity shop on health and safety grounds.

The Truth: No regulations apply to the sale of knitting needles. The charity shop in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, has been urged to "come clean" as to the real reason it will not sell knitting needles. "Shop assistants just fob you off with the health and safety excuse for everything. Often they answer from the top of their heads," Ms Croall said.

Not so sharp

The Claim: A Cambridgeshire public hall said knives were too dangerous for the kitchen.

The Truth: John Bull brought the "daft decision" to the attention of the HSE who ruled the knife ban was neither sensible nor proportionate. It said no laws existed to ban knives from their "natural home". Mr Bull said: "I knew straight away it was a crackers decision."

Altitude attitude

The Claim: An airline refused to give boiled sweets for passengers to suck to equalise air pressure as they posed a risk to children.

The Truth: Both the HSE and the Civil Aviation Authority were astounded by the airline's "flight of fancy". Sandra Scott, 46, a company director from Kingston, Surrey, was told children could choke on the boiled sweets. Ms Scott said: "I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It may just be the airline wanted to save money on sweets."

Batter bits banned

The Claim: Health and safety prevents fish and chip shops selling customers those sought-after "batter scraps".

The Truth: The chippie in Dagenham, east London, had previously offered batter scraps, which are a tradition in the North-East. But part-time lifeguard Geoff Wade, 29, was told he could not have them on safety grounds. The HSE said the chip shop had used a "lazy excuse". Mr Wade said: "Despite the server sieving out fresh scraps from the same fryer the fish came out of, they wouldn't serve me them."

NHS nannying

The Claim: NHS Manchester issued an edict banning all metal paper clips after a member of staff cut their finger.

The Truth: HSE said it would strongly encourage a "proportional" approach by the NHS trust. One member of staff said: "I can only assume top brass think that they're employed idiots who need nannying."

Soaked but safe

The Claim: Taking umbrellas to an outdoor pop concert, where rain was likely, was a safety risk.

The Truth: The decision to ban umbrellas at a JLS concert in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, in August saw fans drenched for two hours. One fan, Paige Taylor, said when she woke the next morning she could not speak or swallow and was put on antibiotics for a week. The HSE said: "If umbrellas really were a health and safety risk they would need to be banned in busy high streets and the like."

Danger at school

The Claim: Traditional conker matches between schoolchildren are banned as they represent a safety risk.

The Truth: No legislation outlaws skipping, playing conkers or climbing trees. HSE said they were "important activities" that helped children learn and the "sooner they are exposed to risk" the sooner they will learn to deal with it. A survey found that almost one-sixth of schools banned conker matches over safety fears.

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