The London Economic website has recently published a list of what it calls the most bizarre health and safety rules within businesses in the UK. Written by someone quite obviously with no health and safety background, and based on “research” by animal charity SPANA, the article gives an extremely anti-health and safety slant on 40 health and safety policies within businesses. Looking down the list, the article fails to explain why such policies are in existence. Here I explain why I think these rules are in place. But before I do it appears the employers who brought these policies in need to communicate with their workforce explaining WHY they are in place.
Good communication on the Whys of health and safety means implementation of management policies will be much easier and more successful. THE TOP 40 BIZARRE HEALTH AND SAFETY RULINGS (according to The London Economic) 1. No leaving doors open, as it’s a fire hazard. This is especially so with fire doors, as it prevents the spread of fire through buildings and gives people enough time to escape from a burning smoke filled environment. Employers who find this bizarre need basic fire safety awareness training . (KSH Safety Services can help with that). 2. No wearing of shorts. Dependent on the task carried out, this could be safety critical. Trousers of any kind can add an extra layer of protection to our thin layer of skin. I speculate that the company implementing this policy require trousers or PPE to be worn for particular tasks. 3. No heavy lifting. This is a company trying to reduce the amount of injury caused by lifting and carrying heavy items so that they can comply with the law. Mechanical aids should be used where practicable to help lift and move heavy items. KSH Safety Services can offer advice and training on this issue. 4. No open toed sandals in case you drop something on your foot; and 5. Do not wear flip-flops in the office due to safety concerns. For both of these policies it again depends on the environment. In my experience, flip flops (and walking barefooted in offices) causes numerous accidents every summer. I once investigated an accident where someone ran over their own toes with their office chair whilst sat on it breaking the toes. In another incident, a lady wearing sandals was injured after accidentally flicking a pen into the air that sped up like a bullet landing and being lodged nib end on deep in her foot. 6. Do not change light bulbs. This would usually involve using a stepladder or climbing on something. In other words, Working at Height - one of the biggest causes of accidents in the workplace. If you haven’t had the proper training, don’t do it. Changing of lightbulbs is usually the responsibility of building or facilities management. Leave it to them and reduce the risk. 7. No running. Running in any workplace leads to more slips trips and falls. Walk and pay attention to your environment. In an emergency you should walk quickly, despite the sign of a running man. 8. Do not climb a ladder. Under the Working at Height Regulations, only use a ladder if you have been trained, it is safe and of the correct type and rating. It’s the law. 9. No drinks near a PC or laptop. This policy needs explaining to the employees as it shouldn’t be a particular problem. It may well have been implemented to force people away from the workstation for a break to aid movement and reduce upper limb and back problems associated with sitting at a computer for too long. 10. No toasters. Toasters in workplaces are often never cleared of crumbs and they and the bread in them often burn setting off fire alarms and heat / smoke sensors, leading to evacuations and call out charges from the fire service. The more false alarms the more complacent a workforce gets about evacuating leading to increased risks. Toasters can also cause electrical faults, fire and electrical shock especially when overused. 11. Only allowed hot drinks in certain areas. This could be for the reasons outlined in no. 9 but also to reduce the risks of scalding by carrying hot drinks too far. 12. Do not give each other painkillers, such as paracetamol. People can have adverse reactions to some medication. First Aiders cannot issue such items for the same reason. 13. Do not take get any medication from the first aid box. There should NEVER be any medication in a first aid box in the first place for reasons mentioned in No. 12 14. No candles on someone’s birthday cake. Candles create smoke and can set off smoke alarms and lighting any fire indoors also increased the risk of accidental fire spread. 15. Do not take a plaster without filling out a form. Restrict access to first aid boxes to first aiders. 16. No heaters. This really should say no unauthorised heaters, especially electrical ones. In one case I dealt with about four years ago, an employee of a particular company pulled an electrical fan heater out of a cupboard one autumn after it had been thrown in the cupboard that spring. On plugging it in, the employee suffered an electrical shock, and shot across the room sustaining internal injuries. The building's electrics shorted as a result. 17. No open windows. The main reason for this is the effect opening windows can have on air conditioning systems. 18. Must hold handrail when walking up or down stairs. This is really unenforceable but using a handrail reduces the risk of falling down the stairs - a common accident in multiple floor workplaces. 19. No tinsel to be put up anywhere near work stations. In Victorian times tinsel was made using thin pieces of silver. Even though silver looked beautiful and sparkly to begin with, it tarnished quite quickly, meaning it would lose its lovely, bright appearance. So it was swapped for other materials like copper and tin. These metals were also cheaper, so it meant that more people could use them. However, when World War I started in 1914, metals like copper were needed for the war. Because of this, they couldn't be used for Christmas decorations as much, so a substitute was needed. It was swapped for aluminium, but this caused fire scares. So it was switched for lead, but that turned out to be poisonous! Nowadays tinsel is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). So older tinsel can conduct electricity - a problem if a strand falls of and enters the vent of the monitor. Tinsel also wafts in any slight draught and that can set off motion sensor alarms. The risks are low however. 20. No hats. This depends on the job and environment. Hats have many positive health and safety uses. 21. Do not carry drinks up or down stairs. Spillages are more likely to happen on staircases, and if on a tray you cannot see where you are going and can’t hold the handrail. If the fire alarm goes off and you are evacuationed, leave your drink behind for the same reason. 22. No carrying boxes. This sounds like the company are trying to reduce the costs associated withtraining. The fact is despite the policy and lack of training people will still lift boxes from time to time. With no training this increases the risk of injury. The policy ideally should say no lifting boxes without formal training. KSH Safety Services can offer this training in your company. 23. Water bottles only – no cups or glasses. I can only assume that this is to reduce spillages. But this is not good for the environment unless the bottles are reusable. 24. Nobody is allowed to bring nuts into the building. This is important if the building is involved in food preparation and states in its packaging that it comes from a bit free environment. A major allergen, nuts can cause problems to some people working there as well. 25. No Christmas tree to be put up. Bah humbug. If assessed and in the right place why not? Artificial is best if people suffer from allergies or intolerances to pine needles but artificial trees get dusty in storage. Use new or PAT tested tree lights and don’t overload sockets. 26. No fans. Fans have many benefits but in particular in air conditioned areas they can mean the air conditioning unit battles more to maintain a good temperature if numerous fans are used. 27. No eating while walking. This is more to keep crumbs and litter in one place than for health and safety reasons to make cleaning up easier. 28. No turning things off. Some electrical items need to stay turned on but a blanket ban on turning items off not only is bad for the planet, it increases electricity bills and increases the risk of fire. 29. Do not shred documents. The reason I got into health and safety was by accidentally shredding my tie, which tightened the knot so much that someone had to cut the tie off me. Sensible precautions and the use external shredding companies are easy to implement. 30. No hot drinks. A total ban on hot drinks is a breach of the Health and Safety (Workplace) Regulations which day employers must provide a means of making hot drinks and hot food. No hot drinks in some areas of the building may be required for production reasons. 31. Do not attempt to remove paper jams from the printer. There are hot parts in most printers and photocopiers but they can get damaged if people try and unjam paper jams. Call IT or the printer maintenance company if possible. 32. Do not move office chairs. Chairs should be set to suit the person who uses them. Moving chairs around means people cannot find their chair, which may be a specialist one purchased for them for ergonomic and health reasons. 33. Must wear a headset to be on the phone. If you use the phone a lot during the day then yes use a headset. It frees up both arms, reduces the chance of cramps and DVT, and limits the chance of someone using their shoulder to rest the headset on a call, which can trap nerves and blood vessels and in rare cases can be fatal. 34. Do not share food from home, such as cakes, with colleagues due to the potential food poisoning risk. This is especially so with fresh food products that can only be unrefrigerated for a short time. If you have a cake day avoid cream cakes than need refrigerating for example. 35. No balloons in the building. Balloons are generally made of latex so can cause allergic reactions. They also can get trapped in high ceilings and are difficult to remove safely. 36. Employees must clock out before engaging in chit-chat. Bit harsh. As humans we have a basic need and human right to chitchat within reason. Too much and not enough work then warnings can be issued but a total ban seems harsh. 37. No facial hair. This is especially important when wearing face masks or respirators that require face fitting. Facial hair can allow particulates to get where they are not wanted. Banning facial hair could be prejudicial to those who have facial hair for religious reasons. 38. Anything left on your desk gets thrown in the bin. This needs expanding on. I agree that foodstuffs are disposed of if going out of date / smelling. The same applies in fridges. 39. Only plastic knives and forks to be used. Not environmentally friendly but certain industries may require it - for example for security reasons at airports and ports. 40. No more than one personal item on your desk. A clean desk policy improves general housekeeping and reduces the risk of fire. Going through this list, employees find the rules frustrating and they give health and safety management a bad name. Employers need to explain to staff why the policies are being introduced. Often there are better alternatives around, but in all cases good communication of why policies are made is essential for getting support and for good implementation of measures. If you have a health and safety problem in your business and are unsure on how to resolve it, speak to KSH Safety Services today on 07496 357 976 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org