Teresa Budworth: I don’t know whether to laugh or cry

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mentalhealthHonestly, some of the things people say and do in the name of health and safety. It makes me laugh and makes me angry all at the same time.

For example, a notice appeared in a local gym recently which said that for “health and safety reasons” members were requested to only use hair dryers for “hair on the head.”

Then there was the woman who visited a coffee shop and asked for semi-skimmed milk. She was told they only serve skimmed or full fat. So when she then asked if she could have half and half as other branches in the chain had done, she was told that “due to health and safety” they couldn’t do it.

And as a final example, how about the cinema customer who asked for and was refused a glass of tap water at the concession counter on the grounds of health and safety. The position was restated to the customer by the manager who explained that the tap water in the cinema was not drinkable. Bottled water was available for customers to purchase. Turns out, the cinema has a drinking water dispenser!

These are all genuine cases referred to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) ‘Mythbusters Challenge Panel’ for clarification. Overall the panel has now reviewed over 170 similar cases in just over a year.

Clearly, in the three cases outlined above, this is simply health and safety being blamed for things that people and places just don’t want to do. It’s a handy excuse. It’s something we could all employ. I don’t want to cook dinner tonight “for health and safety reasons”. I don’t want to put the bin out for collection “due to health and safety”. And I can’t be bothered to walk the dog “on the grounds of health and safety”.

I know, it’s funny. But it’s also annoying, because every time people hear “for health and safety reasons” they think badly of health and safety. They don’t see it as something that saves lives or prevents injuries, but as an inconvenience. Something that stops them from doing something perfectly reasonable.

So please. If you’re ever going to give “health and safety” as the reason for something, make sure it is. Or you could end up on the HSE website as the latest busted myth.

For more myths visit www.hse.gov.uk/myth

About Teresa Budworth

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About Teresa Budworth

Teresa Budworth, Chief Executive of the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health

During a 30 year career in health and safety, she has specialised in safety consultancy; working with a number of Boards of Directors on implementing safety governance within large and diverse organisations. Her work on competence, education and training culminated in her appointment as Chief Executive of NEBOSH; the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health, in 2006.

Prior to joining NEBOSH, Teresa combined management of Norwich Union Risk Service’s (now Aviva) Consultancy operation with her post as a non-executive Director and Trustee of NEBOSH and was Senior Examiner for Diploma Part One from its inception in 1997. She is a Visiting Senior Teaching Fellow and member of the Examination Board for post graduate courses in Occupational Health at the University of Warwick’s Medical School. She is a member of RoSPA’s National Occupational Safety and Health Committee and also serves on the judging panel for RoSPA’s annual occupational safety and health awards. She is a member of IOSH Council.

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