Contrary to the opinion of certain ex-BBC motoring show presenters, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is not out to ban everything remotely fun.

They do not want to steal children’s conkers, they do not want to ban football and they do not want to turn workplaces into a sea of red tape.

The one goal of the HSE is to keep you safe.

However, despite this noble goal, there are a whole load of myths floating about society, claiming the HSE is out to stymie business and make life a lot less enjoyable. Well, we set ourselves the challenge of picking out the worst of these myths and busting them once and for all.


HSE has banned stepladders in the workplace

HSE has banned stepladders in the workplace

Fuelled by isolated reports of stepladder bans — such as this one in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library — many people falsely believe that the HSE has instituted a wholesale ban on the humble stepladder in workplaces. Sometimes the myth is narrowed to just building sites.

However, the HSE has never banned stepladders. All they have said is that stepladders are not suitable for every single job. The HSE’s website states:

“For straightforward, short duration work stepladders and ladders can be a good option, but you wouldn’t want to be wobbling about on them doing complex tasks for long periods.”

So, as long as you use stepladders for the right sort of jobs, the HSE won’t bat an eyelid.


Children can’t play conkers without safety specs

Children can’t play conkers without safety specs

Back in 2004, the media whipped itself into a frenzy amid reports that a headmaster down in England was insisting his pupils wore safety goggles when playing cockers.

It was nanny state this, health and safety that. It was bureaucracy gone mad and so on and so on.

The tabloids waded in with the Daily Mail leading the charge, blasting the cotton wool society we (apparently) live in. Future Prime Minister David Cameron even took a few shots — albeit five years late — attacking all the crazy health and safety myths he thought were true.

The furore grew so loud that the HSE actually came out and denied having anything to do with it. A spokesman said:

“Realistically the risk from playing conkers is incredibly low and just not worth bothering about. If kids deliberately hit each other over the head with conkers, that’s a discipline issue, not health and safety.”

In 2009, a full five years after the story broke, the infamous headmaster, Shaun Halfpenny, put pen to paper for the Guardian in a bid to explain the myth. He wrote:

I never banned conkers; I allowed the game to take place. Most of the children in my school had never actually touched a horse chestnut, let alone played the game. We were on a school trip (risk assessments completed) when we collected pocketfuls of the nuts. It was a child who actually asked if they could wear goggles.

It was largely during the Thatcher and Major Conservative administrations that the health and safety culture was brought to bear in schools. Like all headteachers I spent tedious hours drawing up policies and writing risk assessments for all activities. It was therefore somewhat tongue in cheek that I alerted the media to the conkers-with-goggles story. I never dreamed it would eventually go global.

So, that puts this old chestnut to rest. (Sorry about the pun!)


People aren’t responsible for their own health and safety

People aren’t responsible for their own health and safety

Before we dig into this one, let’s get something out the way. Companies have a duty to protect their employees from dangers caused by their work.

However, health and safety isn’t entirely the employer’s responsibility.

If you decide to jump in front of an eight-ton excavator, you can’t blame your employer if it drives across your foot.

As the HSE says:

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

So, pay attention and don’t let your behaviour put you or other people at risk.


Workers are banned from putting up Christmas decorations

Workers are banned from putting up Christmas decorations

At this time of year, we always hear about office managers putting the kibosh on festive decorations. It’s not a matter of taste, space or diversity, though. Oh, no. This is a matter of health and safety.

Trees, tinsel and a fabric angel? That sounds like a job for a professional Christmas Aesthetics Installation Engineer. Well, according to some office managers it does.

However, there are no HSE regulations stopping offices from decorating their offices in time for Saint Nick. Writing on the HSE’s Myth Busters Challenge Panel, the HSE said:

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.


Pubs goers were banned from opening champagne bottles

Pubs goers were banned from opening champagne bottles

Picture the scene. You’ve just got a promotion and head to the pub, determined to celebrate in style. You order a bottle of champagne and reach out across the bar, anticipating the satisfying pop.

“Can’t let you open it, mate,” says the bartender. “Health and safety, I’m afraid.”

Cue disappointed punter taking to Facebook to vent their frustration.

This is one of the most common myths floating around out there with pubs allegedly banning drinkers from opening their own champagne bottle due to health and safety.

Now, I’m not saying this has never happened because it probably has but the HSE had absolutely nothing to do with it.

There are absolutely no regulations preventing people from opening bottles of champagne in bars or restaurants. In all likelihood, the bartender was just trying to avoid a late night cleaning champagne off the ceilings!


For a no-myth course on managing Health and Safety in your organisation, check out our IOSH Managing Safely Course.

There’s no stepladder bans, no conker safety goggles and (sadly) no champagne. However, we will give you everything you need to make your workplace a safer place.