8th September, 2020

10 Health & Safety Myths And The Truth Behind Them

Health and safety sometimes gets a bad name. It seems like more and more strict rules are put in place each year. But is this the truth, or are these health and safety myths? In this blog post, we take a look at some health and safety headlines and try to separate fact from fiction.

10 Health & Safety Myths And The Truth Behind Them header image

Health and safety myths are everywhere. From banning fun activities to controlling the things you do, health and safety is often the scapegoat. But is health and safety really to blame, or is it just a convenient excuse used when someone wants to stop something (possibly for other reasons).

Let's take a look at 10 health and safety myths and the truth behind them...

1. Health and Safety Bans Things

Like with most myths, there is some truth behind it. But, generally, health and safety laws don't ban things. Certainly, a lot of the things that are reported to be banned through reasons of health and safety, are, well, not. Ladders on construction sites. Candyfloss on sticks. Conkers in playgrounds. Umbrellas at an outdoor concert. I'm sure you've heard many more cases of things being banned under the blanket statement of 'health and safety'. But if ladders were unsafe, and umbrellas a hazard, and were banned by health and safety, they wouldn't be available to buy.

And as for the truth behind it, yes, health and safety does ban some things. Like deadly asbestos materials, or overexposure to hazardous substances. But in most cases, the law asks you to reduce risk as low as is reasonable, without banning specific tools or equipment.

2. Health and Safety Costs Money

The short term answer is yes, health and safety does cost time and money. But this statement is still a myth, because health and safety is an investment, and over the long term, health and safety can save you money. Cha-ching.

A rolled up £5 note

3. Health and Safety Is Red Tape

To get to the truth behind this one, let's take a look at the official definition of red tape:

official rules and processes that seem unnecessary and delay results:

Ok, so health and safety is based on official rules and processes I suppose. And then businesses create their own rules and processes based on the regulations. Tick. But are those rules unnecessary? Well, if they achieve the number one aim of preventing harm to people, then I'd say they are pretty necessary. And as for delaying results... let's cover that in our next item.

4. Health and Safety Reduces Productivity

We can assure you that health and safety reducing productivity is a myth. Health and safety makes you plan your work. Just the process of carrying out a risk assessment means you think about how work will get completed, safely. And planning = productivity.

I can tell you what does reduce productivity. Accidents. Ill health. Staff being off work. Investigations. These are things that good health and safety management will help you avoid.

5. You Need a Health and Safety Consultant

This is both a myth and a fact. You don't ALWAYS need a health and safety consultant. I mean, if you always needed them, they wouldn't be a consultant, they would be working for you as a full-time member of staff. And in many workplaces, like low-risk office-based environments, you probably have the skills and knowledge to manage health and safety yourself on a day-to-day basis.

But there are of course times when you might need the external knowledge and expertise of a health and safety consultant. In a high-risk workplace, or to guide you through a particular health and safety challenge, or advise on changes to regulations.

Health and safety person in hi-viz

6. Health and Safety Has Gone Mad

A lot of things have gone mad this year. 2020 is certainly one for the history books. A global pandemic. Brexit limbo. Lockdowns. And new ways of working, living and socialising (from a distance). But if anything, the events of this year remind us just how important our health and wellbeing is.

7. Health and Safety Is Boring

What's boring about saving lives? Isn't that what superheroes do? Now, I'm not claiming that health and safety professionals are superheroes. But I'm not not saying that either! In all seriousness, health and safety is an essential business process, like HR, accounts, project management. All business processes can seem boring at times, but they all benefit your business. And once you factor in the cost savings and business benefits health and safety can bring, it soon becomes less boring!

8. Health and Safety Killed Christmas

Children banned from throwing snowballs. Chrismas decorations banned. Carol singers are a health and safety risk. Are we talking about health and safety, or Scrooge?

Well, if your boss bans Christmas decorations in the name of health and safety, maybe you work for a modern-day Ebenezer. But we'll certainly be putting our decorations up this year.

Christmas decorations

9. The HSE Always Enforces Health and Safety

This myth might surprise you because the HSE is the go-to name in health and safety. They are the enforcing authority everyone talks about. And, when you think of health and safety fines, enforcement notices and prosecutions, you probably think of the HSE. And the HSE is responsible for enforcing health and safety in a variety of workplaces like construction sites, factories, mines, farms, fairgrounds, schools and colleges.

But the HSE is not the only enforcing authority. In fact, for hotels, offices, pubs and clubs, restaurants, nurseries and places of worship, the HSE are not the ones to call. Instead, you would need the Local Authority environmental health department. And there are other enforcing authorities too, like the Office For Nuclear Regulation.

10. Health and Safety Is Inflexible

The fact behind this myth is that sometimes the health and safety rules and procedures you enforce at work might be inflexible. But health and safety regulations themselves are fairly flexible in that they are not prescriptive.

In 1974 the Health and Safety At Work etc. Act was introduced to move away from prescriptive rule-based legislation to goal-setting legislation. Instead of telling you what to do (prescriptive), it tells you what to achieve (goal-setting). And while this may seem less clear, in that the legislation might tell you, you need to reduce risk but doesn't tell you how exactly to do it. It means that the regulations are flexible and can be applied to different workplaces.

Get the truth behind the myths. Start with your legal health and safety responsibilities as an employer, and health and safety responsibilities as an employee.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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