As someone not directly in the elf ‘n safety business but certainly on the fringes of it, I have been a keen follower of the Health and Safety Executive’s Myth Busters Challenge Panel. Set up just over a year ago it’s job is to challenge those daft, inappropriate and at times just plain bonkers decisions taken by local councils, schools, shops, businesses and others on the basis of health and safety. Bans on yo-yos in playgrounds, knives in kitchens and kettles in offices were all wrongly blamed on workplace safety laws in 2012.
According to HSE Chief Executive Judith Hackett in her recent blog, they reviewed their 100th case just before Christmas – a bit of a cracker as it happens. A Charity shop owner was apparently told by a managing authority – read local council – that “under HSE they were not allowed to sell second hand underwear.” Now, bawdy jokes aside, there maybe all sorts of reasons why it would be a bit unsavoury to sell second hand knickers, but on being challenged, the Panel has said quite rightly that it was not for the HSE to rule on such specific issues and the managing authority needed to be rather more sharp and professional in their advice and not just blame elf ’n safety.
However, the HSE may still be missing a trick. The panel has clearly done a great job in highlighting plenty of ridiculous decisions, the likes of which have been the butt of jokes for years but all too often the response is too much of a put-down akin to “Oh for God’s sake, don’t be so stupid”. For a few, this is undoubtedly the only appropriate thing to say but other responses would do well to point to some legislation, guidance or advice that helps the recipient – and others reading – not to fall into the same daft trap again. The speed with which the Panel reached 100 cases indicates there is still a lot of bonkers decision making going on by a lot of people who should, but don’t, know better. The HSE and other regulators walk a difficult line between sanctioning those who get it wrong and telling us all how to get it right; the perennial debate of carrot and stick. A bit more carrot might just take the Myth Busters and HSE’s advisory credibility to a whole new level.