Health and Safety Policy Blunder Busting

Bus driver orders everyone off after someone spills their coffee – Health and Safety madness – The Sun, Mar. Olympics sandcastle demolished over health and safety fears – The Guardian, Apr. Flower Potty:Church officials ban plants from graveyards over health and safety fears – The Mirror, Sept. Airline cabin crew told cold passenger they could not give her a blanket because of health and safety reasons… but they would sell her one for £5 – The Mail, Aug. Christmas lights out for the first time in 20 years over health and safety fears – Daily Telegraph, Nov.

As can be seen from the news it is very easy to let health and safety policy go a bit overboard. This factsheet can hopefully help you to avoid some of the more common health and safety myths and blunders that have been propagated through business, so that you only implement health and safety policies necessary for saving people’s lives and quality of life instead of causing annoyance and frustration.

Common Health and Safety Myths Busted by HSE

HSE has been working to remove some of the health and safety myths propagating through the workplace. Below are some of the false myths found for around the office, construction working and cafes/restaurants and the facts related to them. You may find some more surprising than others!

False Myth

Related Facts

Around the Office

Summer footwear in the office should have an enclosed toe and supported heel |link|

As about 30% of workplace accidents are from slips trips and falls, if the floors cannot be kept clean or dry well fitting shoes with good grip may be appropriate. However, no health and safety regulations enforce these rules in offices (or other low risk environments). These policies would be more appropriately labelled as part of a dress code to present a particular professional employee image.

Sunglasses cannot be worn in a bright office even if a doctor’s note is produced |link|

Bunting cannot be hung from light fittings for celebrations |link|

It could be a health and safety issue having employees standing on chairs to put up bunting. However, with a little bit of sensibly applied common sense and provision of a step ladder there is no health and safety reason to not erect bunting.

Workers cannot put up Christmas decorations  or a qualified person would be needed to put up decorations for celebrations |link|

All electrical office equipment must be tested by a trained electrician every year |link, link2|

The law requires employers to assess risks and take appropriate action to maintain electrical equipment if it can cause danger. Some equipment only requires formal testing every 1-5years while some equipment requires no formal testing. Read more about portable appliance testing here.

Construction Working

Step ladders must be footed by someone when at work on them |link|

Although working at height does require health and safety policy to reduce the risk of falling, footing of a ladder is a last resort and should only be used if other reasonable measures cannot be taken.

You cannot wear shorts on a building site |link|

Some situations such as working with cement would require PPE including plastic trousers to avoid serious skin hazards but not all construction sites will require the need of such measures.

It’s ok to have a general handy man work on a gas appliance |link|

As incorrect gas appliances can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, gas leaks, fires and explosions it is important that anyone working on gas appliances is Gas Safe registered.


Baby food brought in by a customer cannot be heated up and a customer cannot be given hot water to warm the food up themselves in case they burn themselves or their baby |link|

No health and safety regulations enforce this. If this customer service is provided is merely a matter of company policy.

Pets (ie. dogs) are not allowed to be in cafes and restaurants |link|

Although there may be worries about hygiene and/or misbehaving pets there are no health and safety regulations against pets entering cafes or restaurants which are usually also disregarded in the case of dogs for the blind.

If you are interested in more examples of health and safety false myths uncovered by HSE during the myth busters check out their myth busters and myth of the month series.

Avoiding general health and safety policy blunders

While creating or amending health and safety policy:

  • Always consider if there is a simpler or less restricting way to alleviate the risk and or consequence before writing a policy to avoid the blunder of restricting people unnecessarily.
  • If the risk and consequence is serious make the health and safety policy clear and understandable with solid reasoning and make sure it is followed to avoid the blunder of people ignoring it.
  • If the risk and consequence seems trivial and doesn’t seem to match the action required to avoid it, check the laws and legislation or get a second opinion to ensure you aren’t just copying someone else’s blunder.
  • Don’t consider using health and safety as a cover-up reason for a policy – it will get noticed, and not only will this blunder cause a loss of respect for the enforcer it will also reduce the chances of people taking the real health and safety rules seriously

Factsheet: Health and Safety Policy Blunder Busting
This information is provided for reference only – no liability accepted. All registered trademarks recognised. E&OE.

Health & Safety: Low risk environments: To PAT or oPAC?

The law requires employers to assess health and safety risks and take appropriate action to maintain electrical equipment if it can cause danger, however, it does not stipulate how or when. HSE has published new guidance to help businesses based in low-risk environments (eg. offices and shops) maintain their portable appliances more cost effectively. This factsheet is a quick reference to hopefully save you some time checking you are up to date with the latest help on the how and when.

What is PAT?

PAT: Stands for Portable Appliance Test/ing
A Portable Appliance: Is any electrical equipment which can be moved for use in different locations. A most obvious portable appliance is a floor cleaner but also included are large items such as photocopiers and vending machines and, on the flip side, extension leads and battery charging equipment.
The Test: Checks for electrical evidence that the appliance may not be safe to use. It must be completed with the correct testing equipment by someone who knows how to use it and how to interpret the results (an electrician is not necessary).

HSE advises that not every item needs a PAT and that some items may be sufficiently maintained with other portable appliance checks (I\’m calling these oPAC for short). PAT only gives an indication of possible faults inside an appliance so oPAC are also required for all PAT items too.

What are oPAC?

oPAC: other Portable Appliance Checks; HSE identify two types: user checks and formal checks

User (Employee) Checks: Looks for exterior physical evidence that the equipment may not be safe to use. Employees are to be encouraged to carry out these checks before equipment is used (the equipment should be disconnected).

Indications that the appliance is not safe to use and requires maintenance:

  • Fraying, cuts or heavy scuffing on the lead or the lead trapped under furniture or in floor boxes
  • Damage to the plug cover or bent pins
  • Coloured wires visible where the lead enters the plug or tape applied to join leads together
  • Damage to the outer cover of the equipment itself, including loose parts or screws
  • Signs of overheating; burn marks or staining on the plug wires or cover of the equipment
  • Signs that the equipment that has been used or stored in unsuitable conditions, such as wet or dusty environments or where water spills are possible

Formal (Visual) Checks: Looks at fitness for purpose as well as double-checking the user checks and, where possible, inspecting inside the plug for evidence that the equipment may not be safe to use. It must be performed by someone with sufficient knowledge to avoid danger to themselves or others (an electrician is not necessary).


  • The user checks above should be repeated, has the user reported any issues?
  • Is the equipment being used correctly and in an appropriate environment (in accordance with the manufacturer\’s instructions) and is it suitable and safe for the job
  • Inside the plug check that:
    • There are no signs of internal damage, overheating or water damage
    • The correct fuse is in use (in moulded plugs this is the only check that can be made)
    • The wires are attached to the correct terminals and the terminal screws are tight
    • The cord grip is holding the outer part of the cable tightly and there is no bare wire visible other than at the terminals

Who is responsible for PAT & oPAC?

You are responsible for: equipment you or your employees supply for use by your employees at work
You have joint responsibility for: equipment leased or provided by a contractor for use by your employees
You are not responsible for: equipment both provided and used by a contractor

When does PAT or oPAC need to be done?

Checks should be done periodically to ensure unsafe portable appliances are not being used. You should decide the level of maintenance needed according to the risk of an item becoming faulty, and how the equipment is constructed (if it is earthed or doubled insulated). The table below shows the suggested checks to make and initial intervals between checks for types of equipment as given by the new HSE guidance. You may notice over time, from the amount of problems being found, that the tests are required less, or more often.

Battery operated or less than 50volts AC eg. telephone equip. and low voltage desk lamps: No tests required. Not handheld items rarely or occasionally used eg. fans, computers, photocopiers and vending machines: Formal visual checks every 2-4years and Class I(Earthed) items combined oPAC and PAT tests up to every 5 years. Handheld equipment more than 50volts AC eg. kettles, irons and floor cleaners: User checks, formal visual checks every 6months-1year and Class I items combined oPAC and PAT tests every 1-2years. Leads and plugs connected to the above and battery charging equipment eg. cables, mains voltage extension leads and battery chargers: User checks, formal visual checks every 6months-4years based on equipment connected to it and both Class I and Class II items combined oPAC and PAT tests every 1-5years based on equipment connected to it.

For the full HSE guidance booklet:

Factsheet: H&S- Low risk environments: To PAT or oPAC?
This information is provided for reference only – no liability accepted. All registered trademarks recognised. E&OE.

Health & Safety: and the Self Employed

Photo for highlighting Legislation for Health & Safety

The legislation

This factsheet briefly provides an outline of some of the basic legal Health and Safety requirements imposed upon the Self Employed. This is just an indication of some of the legislation that may apply to you, and further information should be sought:

Health & Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, section 3

places a duty upon any self-employed person to carry out their business so as to ensure so far as reasonably practicable that they do not risk their own health and safety. This means that you must have regard to the level of “danger” which any of your activities may cause, and take steps to reduce that danger to an acceptable level – the more serious the danger, the greater time, effort and money you are expected to expend.

Management of Health & Safety at Work Reg. 1999

require every self employed person to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to their own health and safety whilst at work, and the risks to the health and safety others not in their employment arising out of or in connection with their work. Apart from yourself, consider who else could be harmed by your activities: Visitors – clients, suppliers, couriers, contractors.
Take members of the public into account, if they could be hurt by your work activities.
If you share a workplace with another business, you will need to consider how your work affects others and how their work affects you. Talk to each other and work together to make sure controls are in place.

Electricity at Work Reg. 1989

impose an absolute duty to comply with the Regulations for any electrical system or equipment over which you have control, you will be responsible for making sure it is appropriate for the nature of work for which it was intended and ensuring it is maintained in a safe condition, etc.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Reg. 1999 (COSHH)

apply to self employed persons, except the sections concerning monitoring; information and training provision and health surveillance. Hazardous substances must be used, handled, stored and disposed of safely.

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases & Dangerous Occurrences Reg. 1995 (RIDDOR)

Certain injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences due to work must be notified to the local health and safety enforcing authority (see It is your responsibility to notify HSE of any that happen to you or to others on your premises.

Provided by Holges Consulting – Feb 2012.
Produced by Holges Consulting – Guidence only. Further professional advice should be sought.