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Health and Safety Christmas Myth Buster

Health and Safety Christmas Myth Buster
17 December 2020

The Health and Safety Executive has published its top health and safety myths relating to the Christmas period.

Christmas is a special time of year, but it doesn't stop health and safety being - wrongly - cited as a reason for preventing harmless activities from going ahead. Not only does this needlessly ruin the festive spirit but it also trivialises the true purpose of health and safety: protecting people from real risks at, or connected with, work.

Have you been caught out by any of these classic health and safety Christmas myths?


1. Myth: Workers are Banned From Putting up Christmas Decorations in the Office


Each year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) hears of companies banning their workers from putting up Christmas decorations in their offices, citing “'health and safety” reasons, or requiring the work to be done by a “qualified” person.

Most organisations, including HSE and local councils, manage to put up their decorations, celebrating the spirit of Christmas without a fuss. They just sensibly provide their staff with suitable step ladders to put up decorations rather than expecting staff to balance on wheelie chairs.


2. Myth: Indoor Christmas Lights Need a Portable Appliance Test (PAT) Every Year


Lots of companies waste money in the false belief they need to test their Christmas lights annually, or even don't put them up at all/ By following a few sensible precautions, such as checks by the user for obvious signs of damage, every workplace can switch on safely.


3. Myth: You Can't Throw out Sweets at Pantomimes


Health and safety rules were blamed when a panto stopped throwing out sweets to the audience. In fact, they were worried about the cost of compensation if anyone got hurt.

Realistically, if a panto throws out sweets the chances of someone being seriously hurt is incredibly low. It's certainly not something HSE worries about - as far as they are concerned, this is a case of “Oh yes you can!”


4.Myth: Traditional Shopping Centre Christmas Trees Scaled Back


HSE often hears excuses about the way shops and town centres have (or haven't!) been decorated, especially if they appear less festive than in previous years. These include traditional Christmas trees being scaled back or replaced with artificial alternatives for apparent “health and safety” reasons.

HSE is clear about this: health and safety laws exist to prevent people being seriously injured or made unwell at work, they are certainly not there to “cut down” the festive spirit.


5.Myth: Seats Removed From Shops


When Christmas shoppers have been dashing through the crowds for those last minute bargains all they want is a quick sit down to rest their weary feet. So you can imagine their dismay when they find all the seats have been removed for “health and safety” reasons.

Of course, shops need to manage crowds of people safely, but it's a myth to suggest that it's a requirement to remove seats at busy times, instead, a bit of common sense should ensure seating is located in a sensible place.


6.Myth: Carol Singers are a Health and Safety Risk


In the past few years, HSE has heard of insurance companies producing comprehensive “health and safety” guides for people wishing to take part in this age-old tradition, and parish councils ordering groups of singers to apply for a permit in order to stop them upsetting home-owners.

Well-intentioned pieces of advice such as “don't sing in the road” and “don't carry large amounts of cash” are not health and safety requirements, they are simply common sense.



Picture: a person ready to throw a snowball


7.Myth: Children are Banned From Throwing Snowballs


Every year HSE hears inaccurate stories about children who aren't allowed to throw snowballs, and swimmers who can't take their traditional winter dip in the local lake. Both are untrue


8.Myth: Health and Safety Prevents People Putting Coins in Christmas Puddings


Finding a coin in your pudding on Christmas day is a tradition that's lasted for more than 500 years and is said to grant you a good luck wish for the coming year.

Some say it's too risky to put coins inside puddings, but occupational health and safety law is concerned with what goes on in your workplace, not what you're eating after a Turkey dinner - it doesn't prevent coins or any other lucky charms being put in puddings.


9. Myth: You Cannot Clear Snow and Ice From Pavements Yourself

You can clear snow and ice from pavements yourself. It’s unlikely that you’ll be sued or held responsible if someone is injured on a path or pavement if you’ve cleared it carefully.

When you clear snow and ice:


  • Do it early in the day - it’s easier to move fresh, loose snow.
  • Don’t use water - it might refreeze and turn to black ice.
  • Use salt if possible - it will melt the ice or snow and stop it from refreezing overnight (but don’t use the salt from salting bins as this is used to keep roads clear).
  • You can use ash and sand if you don’t have enough salt - it will provide grip underfoot.
  • Pay extra attention when clearing steps and steep pathways - using more salt may help.


Picture: a photograph of a person decorating a Christmas tree, adding a bauble

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 17 December 2020


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