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Half baked or overcooked? HSE boss speaks about health and safety myths.

HSE Chair Judith hackettAug. 2nd 2013. Judith Hackett, the health and safety chief is trying to do something about the stupid myths that have built up around health and safety legislation in the UK. Here is her latest article on the subject. It's worth noting that the Health and safety Executive have devoted a lot of time under her leadership trying to dispel health and safety myths that bring the legislation into disrepute.

"The evidence is clear but there are still so many commentators out there who just don't get it. Lord Young and Professor Löfstedt's reviews both concluded that it is NOT the regulations that lead to ridiculous decisions on health and safety grounds, but rather the over interpretation and over application of regulations in inappropriate and disproportionate ways.

The Myth Busters Challenge Panel has demonstrated this to be true in more than 200 cases we've looked at over the last 15 months. When 'health and safety' is not being used as a convenient excuse - or non-existent rules being created - it seems even sensible regulations are being applied in silly ways.

No one would reasonably argue that an industrial electric pressure washer used by a variety of operators on a busy construction site should not be subject to regular tests to ensure that it is in a safe condition. Common sense and proportion would tell most of us the same level of testing for kettles and computers in offices is over the top. Indeed the regulations have never required it - but that didn't stop some people from interpreting them in that way.

We've seen again this week health and safety "rules" being lambasted as "half baked" in the national press. This time the story is about Georgie Hippolite link to external website, from the Isle of Wight, whose mum baked cakes to sell at school for a charity. Because her mum didn't have a food hygiene qualification, she was told they couldn't be sold - because of "health and safety”. A perfect cue for the comment pages to go into overdrive, mocking the deadly dangers of cooking a Sunday roast or the hidden threats which lurk in every kitchen.

This reaction is amusing up to a point. But I struggle with any argument that blames the regulations for turning us into a nation of cowards and scaredy-cats, obsessed with red tape and bureaucracy and hell bent on stopping people doing harmless and very low risk activities.

I've seen all 200 or so of the myth buster cases we've dealt with. I know the cases are not made up - many of them you literally couldn't make up, they're so silly. Only this week we heard of parasols being banned at a racecourse on grounds of you-know-what. Apparently, they could be used as a weapon.

This problem of over application is a real one, but until we can get more people to see that the problem is one of "overcooking” the rules, not the rules themselves being "half baked”, our rate of progress is going to be limited.

But it's not been all bad in the press this week. Dr Mike Esbester, of Portsmouth University, reached some interesting conclusions after studying the history of health and safety. You can read them in this report in the Telegraph link to external website. Given the cooking theme of this blog I only really need to say two words to Dr Mike - well done".