Web ExclusiveWe are living in a time where it seems people can sue for anything, so is it any surprise that people and companies are becoming over cautious with their health and safety rules?

Let’s look at some of the most bizarre and questionable examples of health and safety being taken that little bit (or a lot!) too far.

Electric wheelchairs banned at a local Post Office

There has been an instance of a wheelchair user queuing up at the post office being asked to leave, and the owner subsequently banning electric wheelchairs on health and safety terms as they block the aisle.

The shopkeeper defended this stance, and whilst he is within his rights to consider the safety of his customers and staff, HSE (the Health and Safety Executive – the United Kingdom’s version of OSHA) advised that this response was over the top.

In this instance the shop keeper will have to look at the possibility of widening aisles to comply with the Equality Act (UK).

No water for poor Fido

One company banned its deaf worker from filling up their hearing dog’s water bowl from the office kitchen sink, on the grounds that it would spread germs and bacteria.

Instead they expected the employee to walk through two pass-system operated doors to dispose of the water and fill it up using cups.

When this appeared in front of the HSE panel they advised that there is no health and safety regulation which prevents the filling up and emptying of a water bowl in an office kitchen area, and that the employer should reconsider their decision.

No break-time refreshments

A primary school banned teachers and staff from taking drinks onto the playground during break time in case they could injure the children (presumably they thought straws might turn into mini arrows?).

The HSE panel has advised that this is an extreme case of health and safety being taken too far, especially as it relates to not only hot drinks but cold too. The school said it was in case children were allergic to any of the ingredients.

There are no health and safety laws banning teachers or staff from having a hot or cold drink, and HSE advised that if the school wanted to impose these rules on staff it should not do so under health and safety reasons.

No plasters in a first aid box?

Another health and safety case which is an example of taking things too far is that of an employee who suffered a went to the first aid kit to get a plaster and was told that there were none, and would not be restocked due to the fact people may be allergic.

Let’s be clear on this, there is no regulation which says you cannot stock plasters in a first aid kit, in fact quite the opposite. If you are worried about people having an allergic reaction you can stock the hypoallergenic variety, or simply ask the person if they are allergic before giving them a plaster.

Bad press stops children enjoying their childhood

Over the past few years there have been a number of press and tabloid stories about how dangerous skipping, playing conkers and climbing trees are, causing schools and parents to ban children from taking part in any of these activities.(Editor’s note: Conkers is a traditional children's game in Britain and Ireland played using the seeds of Horse Chestnut trees—the name ‘conker’ is also applied to the seed and to the tree itself. The game is played by two players, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string: they take turns striking each other's conker until one breaks.)

There is no health and safety legislation which bans any of the above activities; in fact the HSE panel encourages schools and parents to allow their children to take part in activities allowing them to have fun while handling risk at the same time. Of course it is up the individual schools, however if they are banned it is not for health and safety reasons.

These are just a selection of case studies from the HSE.gov.uk’s site on common myths which they bust regularly.

Source: Safety & Health Practitioner (UK) www.shponline.co.uk