Councils urged to curb health and safety ‘jobsworths’

The Government has urged local authorities to stop misusing health and safety rules to ban activities that are not dangerous and start using “common sense” instead.

Ministers claimed that a school in Gloucester banned girls from wearing “frilly socks” in case they tripped over; a Hampshire school stopped a pupil bringing a chick to school in case it spread bird flu and a borough council in Derbyshire ordered the removal of small wooden canes protecting daffodil bulbs in case someone tripped on them and fell into the flowerbed. They said an unnamed council refused to clear dog mess in a playground and that another banned Help for Heroes wristbands.

Mike Penning, the Work and Pensions minister responsible for health and safety, has written to every local authority and school to urge them to study new guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on how to strike the right balance.

He said: “Health and safety has long been used as a smokescreen by jobsworths who have little knowledge of the law and who want to fob people off with an easy excuse.”

Judith Hackitt, HSE chair, said: “I would urge all decision-makers to take a step back and ask themselves whether a decision made in the name of health and safety, is actually just an excuse for something else. Real Health and Safety is about protecting people in the workplace from life and health-threatening risks.”

Almost 300 people have complained to the HSE in the past two years, saying they had been fobbed off with bogus excuses for decisions. A panel of 13 experts helps the public challenge “daft” decisions made in the name of health and safety and exposes “senseless safety excuses and bans”.

Trade unions have been sceptical about such criticism. They claim inspectors are being “demonised”.