From the TUC

Myth-busting or diversion? HSE looking in all the wrong places

06 Jan 2015, By

There is a new report out on health and safety myths. It is a review of all the cases that have been referred to the Mythbusters Panel which the HSE set up a few years ago to challenge health and safety myths.

Now I have no problem with myth-busting. The TUC did a report on this eight years ago and the main conclusion was that the myths are mainly just that, myths, usually a result of press distortion and very rarely anything to do with workplace health and safety.

The  report, by Exeter university on the cases considered by the panel, shows a number of things. Firstly that a lot of them are about fear or legal action, deficiencies in training and the avoidance of costs. Secondly that most of the cases that the HSE panel looks at are nothing to do with occupational health and safety.

In fact the researchers suggest that only 15% of cases are to do with that. And that is part of the problem. The work of the HSE on mythbusting does not seem to differentiate between workplace health and safety stories and all the rest, despite the fact that it is the regulator for occupational health and safety, not hanging baskets, putting up bunting and school uniform policies (all of which were looked at by the panel). So does the work of the mythbusting panel actually do anything to reinforce the importance of correct workplace health and safety policies? Well, if you look at the media coverage of cases the top four were about conkers, golf buggies, blu tack in schools and postal deliveries.

Even the HSE press release on the report does nothing to highlight the workplace. It says:

“Imagine bagging a bargain in the sales only to be forced to pay a £30 delivery charge, wanting to up your fitness in the pool but are refused the use of floats or goggles, or being told you can’t return an unwanted Christmas present because you unwrapped it to take a look!”

Yes all very silly, but are these really issues for the HSE to be investigating?

Where the HSE has often been really good is in rebuttals of some of the stupid press stories about “health and safety gone mad”, but for some reason the press seem to be reluctant to report on their own mistakes.

For me it all comes down to priorities. Myth-busting is useful, because misinterpretation can be confusing and unhelpful but, as far as I know, no-one ever got killed by an overly-zealous employer. I think we can all agree that it is those employers who are not even complying with their minimum legal requirements that are the problem, such as the half of employers who have not even done a basic risk assessment.

Given that over 2 million people are suffering from a condition caused by, or made worse by, their work, that really has to be the priority.

2 Responses to Myth-busting or diversion? HSE looking in all the wrong places

  1. Sandy Ritchie
    Jan 6th 2015, 9:38 pm

    Whilst the author’s conclusions are correct I’m sure he appreciates the reasons why HSE’s myth buster panel has to / must address the non work related myths. Namely to re balance the negativity that has been perpetuated by the right wing press and its cheer leaders..the Clarksons of this world…about the serious consequences when risks in the workplace are not controlled or prevented. In order to highlight these risks the myth buster panel must debunk the trivia often reported by the right wing as real examples of concern to the HSE and LAs

  2. Hilda Palmer
    Jan 7th 2015, 1:10 pm

    Hugh is entirely correct. HSE’s focus on ‘myth busting’ doesn’t do what they think it does, it doesn’t address the real issues of the lies being used by the government, aided and abetted by the corporate press to support deregulation and enforcement slashing, the large scale lack of compliance by employers which leads to the massive number hurt, made ill and killed by work each year. It misses the point and in fact sustains the whole idea that H&S is full of myths and over the top. HSE should publish full figures all those hurt, made ill and dying from work, the real risk of being harmed at work, the huge personal and economic costs and the fact that the vast majority of all the work related harm is caused by employers mismangement. All of which necessitates the role of HSE/LA as state regulators and enforcers.