Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), has urged people to challenge nonsense decisions taken in the name of health and safety in a column for The Sun. The newspaper is currently running a campaign calling for ‘common sense’, praising sensible decision making and criticising those that it claims fall foul.

Hackitt writes:

“Too often Health and Safety gets the blame for some silly decisions which have got nothing to do with Health and Safety.

“A lot of that is down to confusion about what Health and Safety really applies to.

“We are not concerned with kids climbing trees or kids playing conkers; at least not in the sense that we want to ban them.

“We actively want to see kids climbing trees and playing conkers because the sooner they get exposed to risk and learn how to deal with it, the better they will be able to deal with whatever life has got to throw at them.

“What we are concerned with, simply, is stopping people in the workplace being put at risk of death, serious injury or ill-health.

“The Health and Safety requirements for a business are directly proportional to the level of risk in what they are doing.

“For most small, low-risk businesses you require nothing more or less than a bit of common sense to ensure your employees don’t get harmed while they are at work.

“We would certainly not expect anyone in an office environment or a shop, for example, to be going to the same lengths that we would expect of people working in the construction industry, in agriculture or on an off-shore oil-rig.

“The problem is that people have started to use this phrase of ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ to describe anything and everything that is an unpopular decision.

“I get very tired of jobsworths in all walks of life trotting out Health and Safety as a poor excuse for anything and everything from a hard-nosed commercial decisions that they don’t want to have to justify, to poor customer service, to something they just can’t be bothered to do.

“It is infuriating because the real stuff that we care about continues to be very important.

“We have the best Health and Safety record of any industrialised country in the world and we have made massive improvements in our performance in Great Britain over the last 20 or 30 years.

“Last year, the 173 workplace fatalities reflected the long term downward trend in deaths at work, but there is always work to do and we still have great concerns about the number of people who die early because of exposure to harmful things like asbestos.

“Our job is not just stopping immediate deaths and serious injuries in the workplace, but also about stopping the toll of death 20 or 30 years from now.

“It is not about stopping children from climbing trees or playing conkers.

“That is why we have launched the Myth Busters Challenge Panel and we are encouraging people to challenge it when they are told they can’t do something ‘because of health and safety’.

“We have a panel of about 12 sensible people who share our commitment to common sense and for any case that anyone contacts us about through the HSE website we will ask two or three of them to give their opinion.

“I will then look at their views and for simple, straight-forward issues we aim to give an answer within two working days.

“So, let’s have plenty more common sense, not nonsense.”