The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is principally concerned with ensuring that people can go about their business without being exposed to the risk of suffering a serious injury. The Act provides that:-
"It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees… It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."
While work safety rules are important, in recent times they haev been hijacked by a particular strain of barrack-room lawyer and bar-room expert. It is frustrating trying to reason with a health and safety jobsworth. You know the type of person: someone who ignores common sense, seems to take pleasure in stating "health and safety" as an excuse to ban harmless activities and tell you what you cannot do. A variant is to assert that every situation where an employee may be unhappy involves (breach of) "a duty of care." A recent example involved UKBA staff at the London Olympics who required to work long shifts processing visitors at Heathrow Airport. This, we were told, involved "a duty of care", i.e. that staff were in some way at risk of suffering personal injury by working a longer shift at their passport desk.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been fighting back by running a campaign to discredit jobsworth culture and report the more risible examples provided by the public.
The "crackpot" cases reported by members of the public over the last year include; a restaurant that refused to serve a rare cooked burger, a bar that refused to serve pints in glasses with handles, a restaurant that refused a diner a toothpick and a ban on shredded paper at a lucky dip stall at a school fete. In another bizarre case, whilst organising his daughter's 6th birthday party a dad contacted the HSE after being told that a venue would not allow the use of a bubble machine for health and safety reasons. The HSE confirmed that this was yet another bogus safety ban.
The HSE are keen to focus on the positive effects of legislation, specifically that this legislation is in place to ensure the public's safety. In terms of the legislation, employers are required to carry out these duties "so far as is reasonably practicable". Therefore, a common sense approach should always be taken when considering potential hazards and risks.