December 2019

12 H&S Christmas Myths

Christmas is a special time of year. Even so, it doesn’t stop health and safety being – wrongly – cited as a reason for preventing pretty harmless activities from going ahead. Not only does this needlessly ruin the festive spirit but it also trivialises the true purpose of health and safety: protecting people from real risks at, or connected with, work.

In the run up to Christmas we will publish the top twelve festive myths, originally posted on the HSE website: https://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/xmasmyths/index.htm

Myth #1: Workers are banned from putting up Christmas decorations in the office

The reality

Bah Humbug!  Each year we hear of companies banning their workers from putting up Christmas decorations in their offices for ‘health and safety’ reasons, or requiring the work to be done by a ‘qualified’ person.

Most organisations including HSE and local councils manage to put up their decorations, celebrating the spirit of Christmas without a fuss. They just sensibly provide their staff with suitable step ladders to put up decorations rather than expecting staff to balance on wheelie chairs.

Myth #2: Indoor Christmas lights need a portable appliance test (PAT) every year

The reality

Lots of companies waste money in the false belief they need to test their Christmas lights annually, or even don’t put them up at all! By following a few sensible precautions, such as checks by the user for obvious signs of damage, every workplace can switch on safely and sparkle!

Myth # 3: You can’t throw out sweets at pantos

The reality

Health and safety rules were blamed when a panto stopped throwing out sweets to the audience. In fact they were worried about the cost of compensation if anyone got hurt.

Realistically, if a panto throws out sweets the chances of someone being seriously hurt is incredibly low. It’s certainly not something HSE worries about – as far as we’re concerned, this is a case of ‘Oh yes you can!’

Myth #4: Traditional shopping centre Christmas trees scaled back or replaced by artificial alternatives

The reality

We often hear excuses about the way shops and town centres have (or haven’t!) been decorated,especially if they appear less festive than in previous years.

These include traditional Christmas trees being scaled back or replaced with artificial alternatives for ‘health and safety’ reasons.

A traditional Christmas tree will probably cost a bit more and perhaps that’s one of the real reasons behind these decisions – but let’s be clear, health and safety laws exist to prevent people being seriously injured or made unwell at work, they are certainly not there to ‘cut down’ the festive spirit!

Myth # 5: Seats removed from shops – despite weary Christmas shoppers wanting to rest their feet

The reality

Give it a rest! When Christmas shoppers have been dashing through the crowds for those last minute bargains all they want is a quick sit down to rest their weary feet.

So you can imagine their dismay when they find all the seats have been removed for ‘health and safety’ reasons!

Of course shops need to manage crowds of people safely, but it’s a myth to suggest that it’s a requirement to remove seats at busy times, instead a bit of common sense should ensure seating is located in a sensible place.

Myth # 6: Carol singers are a health and safety risk

The reality

Surely no-one would object to hearing the dulcet tones of carol singers serenading us in the run up to Christmas!

Well, in the past few years we’ve heard of insurance companies producing comprehensive ‘health and safety’ guides for people wishing to take part in this age old tradition, and parish councils ordering groups of singers to apply for a permit in order to stop them upsetting home-owners.

Well-intentioned pieces of advice such as ‘don’t sing in the road’ and ‘don’t carry large amounts of cash’ are not health and safety requirements, they are simple common sense.

Myth #7: Children are banned from throwing snowballs

The reality

Every year we hear inaccurate stories about children who aren’t allowed to throw snowballs, and swimmers who can’t take their traditional winter dip in the local lake. All this in the name of health and safety.

If we spend time on the trivial risks there’s a chance we’ll miss the most important ones. We need to focus on finding ways for things to happen, not reasons to stop them – a sensible approach to managing risk focuses on practical action to tackle risks that cause real harm and suffering.

Myth #8: Health and safety prevents people putting coins in Christmas puddings

The reality

Finding a coin in your pudding on Christmas day – it’s a tradition that’s lasted for more than 500 years and is said to grant you a good luck wish for the coming year.

However, killjoys have been stirring up trouble saying it’s too risky to put coins inside puddings for ‘health and safety’ reasons.

Occupational health and safety law is concerned with what goes on in your workplace, not what you’re eating after a Turkey dinner – it doesn’t prevent coins or any other lucky charms being put in puddings.

If we had one wish, it would be to stamp out the health and safety Scrooges who try to dampen the Christmas spirit.

Myth #9: You cannot clear snow and ice from pavements yourself

You can clear snow and ice from pavements yourself. It’s unlikely that you’ll be sued or held responsible if someone is injured on a path or pavement if you’ve cleared it carefully.

How to clear snow and ice

Myth # 10: Santa needs a seat belt in his sleigh

A strongly worded letter was written to the HSE about the ludicrous decision for Santa Claus must wear a seat belt in his sleigh. It was a reindeer style leap to assume that the HSE insisted on this stricture. HSE was not involved whatsoever in this matter; their concern is addressing the risks that cause 240 workplace deaths and over 140,000 significant injuries a year.

Myth #11: Second hand toys can’t be donated for ‘health and safety’ reasons

Following a story about a Toybox scheme, the HSE pointed out that there are no health and safety reasons for not donating second hand toys.

Although the organisers wanted to make sure any items were clean and in good condition, there is no reason why a good second-hand toy should not make a great present for a child over Christmas.

It takes extra time and manpower to check the condition of used toys and there may be valid insurance or compensation issues involved, so I fully sympathise with the difficulties organisers face, but the good news is there no health and safety regulations saying this can’t be done.

Myth # 12: Elf n Safety ruins Christmas!

The reality: Don’t believe everything you read!

The HSE’s mission has been to ‘sleigh’ the most commonly encountered festive health and safety myths. Yet, the myth we hear most often of all is that ‘elf n safety’ has ruined Christmas.

We hear of events being cancelled, Santa stopped from parading in his sleigh, and festive displays being banned, all blamed on ‘Health and Safety’ reasons.

Health and safety laws exist to provide safeguards against people being seriously injured or made unwell at work, not to hamper fun activities.

So on that note, we’d like to say Bah Humbug to all the festive killjoys out there and a very happy Christmas to everyone else!