The 12 Myths of Christmas
Christmas can be such a magical time. Your home could be full of people and in all the excitement, accidents can very easily happen. But one of the really good things about Christmas is that there are typically more people around to help supervise the children and, with a little thought, common sense and forward planning, most accidents can be avoided.
At work, you’ve probably started to hear the office bah humbug harping on about health and safety with their excuses: “Don’t hang the Christmas decorations there it’s a hazard….don’t clear the snow you might slip….”. Sometimes it feels like you can’t do anything without getting in trouble with the HSE (Health & Safety Executive).
Some people just love an excuse to prevent pretty harmless activities from going ahead. Not only does this needlessly ruin the festivities but it also gives the wrong impression of health and safety. Health & Safety laws are there to protect people from real risks at work or connected with work.
The HSE has rounded up what it says are the 12 most enduring Christmas-related health and safety myths. If we had one wish, it would be to stamp out the health and safety Scrooges who try to dampen the Christmas spirit by blaming their ludicrous decision on Health & Safety. The HSE list of ‘dubious’ health and safety risks and restrictions includes some of the following “old chestnuts” that we have compiled below (along with justification why not!) based on excuses we have heard over the years:
- Children being banned from having snowball fights. If HSE were to spend their time on such trivial risks, they could end up missing the most important ones. A sensible approach to managing risk focuses on practical action to tackle risks that cause real harm and suffering.
- Being sued for clearing snow from outside your business or home. When done incorrectly, snow-clearing can injure your body and damage your vehicle and even the hardscaping around your home. You just need to clear the snow quickly and efficiently. Generally, you will want to wait until the snowfall has completely stopped, but no longer than six to eight hours after it has stopped to be most effective
- Office workers told they can’t put decorations up or the work to be done by a ‘qualified’ person. Most organisations including HSE 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.
- Panto performers ordered not to throw sweets into the audience. Health and safety rules were blamed when a panto stopped throwing sweets into the audience. They were actually just worried about the cost of compensation if anyone got hurt. Realistically, the chances of someone being seriously hurt is incredibly low. This is a case of ‘Oh yes you can!’
- Traditional shopping centre Christmas trees being scaled back or replaced by artificial alternatives. A traditional Christmas tree will probably cost a bit more and perhaps that’s one of the real reasons behind these decisions – but let’s be clear, health and safety laws exist to prevent people being seriously injured or made unwell at work, they are certainly not there to ‘cut down’ the festive spirit!
- Second-hand toys can’t be donated for ‘health & safety’ reasons. The main thing to look out for on toys is whether they have a CE Mark. This indicates that the product complies with European safety requirements. If it does not have a CE Mark, don’t accept/buy it. Also, get rid of germs, give any stuffed toy a good wash in hot water before giving it to a child. For lost instructions, check manufacturers’ websites for information. Also, make sure you buy children’s gifts for the correct age group and from reputable retailers. Remember to buy batteries for toys that need them – that way you won’t be tempted to remove batteries from smoke alarms
- Seats were removed from shops – despite weary Christmas shoppers wanting to rest their feet. Yes shops need to manage crowds of people safely, but it’s a myth to suggest that it’s a requirement to remove seats at busy times, instead, a bit of common sense should ensure seating is located in a sensible place.
- Christmas lights needing electrical (portable appliance testing) PAT tests every year. Lots of companies waste money on the false belief they need to test their Christmas lights annually, or don’t put them up at all! By following some sensible precautions, such as checks for obvious signs of damage, every workplace can switch on safely and sparkle! Although if you have old Christmas lights, seriously consider buying new ones which will meet much higher safety standards, and don’t let children play with lights (some have swallowed the bulbs!).
- Santa being ordered to buckle up on his sleigh. Definitely not. While the Highway Code applies to almost anything being used on British public roads, there are sections worth highlighting in particular, as well as separate laws specific to animal-drawn vehicles. While there is little by way of reindeer-specific regulation in this country, many laws are very vague in the animals that they apply to – a sleigh user, to some extent, is likely to have to comply with horse and carriage laws.
- Carol singers being classed as a health and safety risk. in the past few years, we’ve heard of insurance companies producing comprehensive ‘health and safety’ guides for people wishing to take part in this age-old tradition, and parish councils ordering groups of singers to apply for a permit in order to stop them upsetting home-owners. Well-intentioned pieces of advice such as ‘don’t sing in the road’ and ‘don’t carry large amounts of cash’ are not health and safety requirements, they are simply common sense.
- You can’t put coins in a traditional Christmas Pud. it’s a tradition that’s lasted for more than 500 years and is said to grant you a good luck wish for the coming year. Occupational health and safety law is concerned with what goes on in your workplace, not what you’re eating after a Turkey dinner – it doesn’t prevent coins or any other lucky charms being put in puddings.
- Elf n Safety ruins Christmas. We hear of events being cancelled, Santa stopped from parading in his sleigh, and festive displays being banned, all blamed on ‘Health and Safety’ reasons. Health and safety laws exist to provide safeguards against people being seriously injured or made unwell at work, not to hamper fun activities.
We’d like to say “Bah Humbug” to all the festive killjoys out there and wish a very Happy Christmas to everyone else!
For pragmatic advice about health and safety for people running smaller businesses contact us