I am a big fan of PolitiFact and MythBusters.
PolitiFact is an independent fact-checking journalism website. It is a division of my local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. MythBusters is a television program on the Discovery Channel. The show's hosts test the validity of rumors, myths, movie scenes, adages and Internet videos.
Both PolitiFact and Mythbusters take statements that people “know” are true and, on a frequent basis, prove that they are, in fact, false.
Like politics and the movies, the safety field is filled with myths and legends.
The UK Health and Safety Executive has a list on its website of its top 10 worst health and safety myths. Number 2 on this list is banning workers from putting up Christmas decorations in their offices for “health and safety” reasons. As they point out – "most organizations manage to put up their decorations 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.”
As pointed out on The UK website, many safety myths are false – yet they are often widely accepted as true. Safety myths are perpetuated on websites and sometimes even in professional articles. More troubling, some safety myths end up becoming safety rules. There are even myths that are treated as safety principles that can’t be questioned.
Two examples of safety myths (excerpted from Safety Myths: What Everybody Knows Is Simply Wrong by John F. Rekus):
Myth: Respirator wearers can't have beards.
Truth: The issue of beards and respirators has been addressed a number of times by OSHA in letters of interpretation. OSHA has repeatedly pointed out in these letters that it is not the wearing of beards that is the issue, it's the face-to-facepiece seal. In other words, Santa Claus could wear an air-supplied hood or helmet whose fit would not be affected by his beard.
Myth: The atmosphere in a confined space can change in the blink of an eye.
Truth: The laws of chemistry and physics prohibit the atmosphere from changing instantaneously. For example, the oxygen content in a space won't be 20.8 percent one minute and 0 percent the next. Yes, the atmosphere in a confined space can change, but it always changes at some rate. If the space is monitored continuously with a properly calibrated instrument set to alarm at a specified set point, the alarm will sound, signaling entrants to evacuate.
I could go on but I’m off to put up our Christmas decorations – once I check that the ladder is safe and extension cords are not frayed.
One of the most persistent safety myths is the so-called Heinrich’s Triangle, introduced in the 1930s, which postulates a direct relationship between no-injury accidents and major injuries. Despite being considered a “safety truth” for more than 80 years, it is false. There is insufficient evidence that supports the proposition that reducing accident frequency will reduce severe injuries. For an in-depth review of this topic, check out Reviewing Heinrich, Dislodging Two Myths from the Practice of Safety by Fred Manuele.
There are obviously hazards associated with decorating for Christmas. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), every year, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people for injuries, such as falls, cuts and shocks, related to holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees. For more holiday safety tips, download the CPSC Holiday Decoration Safety Tips pamphlet.