The 12 myths of Christmas

Christmas is a special time of year. Even so, it doesn’t stop health and safety being - wrongly - cited as a reason for preventing pretty 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.

Here are 12 of the most common festive based Health and Safety Myths!

Myth 1: Workers are banned from putting up Christmas decorations in the office

The reality: Bah Humbug!  Each year the HSE hear of companies banning their workers from putting up Christmas decorations in their offices for ‘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.

Myth 2: Indoor Christmas lights need a portable appliance test (PAT) every year

The reality: 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 and sparkle!

Myth 3: You can’t throw out sweets at pantos

The reality: 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 we’re concerned, this is a case of ‘Oh yes you can!’

Myth 4: Santa needs a seatbelt in his sleigh

A strongly worded letter was written to the HSE about the ludicrous decision that Halesowen’s Santa Claus must wear a seat belt in his sleigh. He then makes a reindeer style leap to assume that the HSE insisted on this stricture. HSE was not involved whatsoever in this matter; their concern is addressing the risks that cause 240 workplace deaths and over 140,000 significant injuries a year.

Myth 5: Second hand toys can’t be donated for ‘health and safety’ reasons

Following a recent story about the excellent Carmarthenshire Christmas Toybox scheme, the HSE pointed out that there are no health and safety reasons for not donating second hand toys.

Although the organisers wanted to make sure any items were clean and in good condition, there is no reason why a good second-hand toy should not make a great present for a child over Christmas.

It takes extra time and manpower to check the condition of used toys and there may be valid insurance or compensation issues involved, so I fully sympathise with the difficulties organisers face, but the good news is there no health and safety regulations saying this can’t be done.

Myth 6: Traditional shopping centre Christmas trees scaled back or replaced by artificial alternatives

The reality: HSE often hear 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 ‘health and safety’ reasons.

A traditional Christmas tree will probably cost a bit more and perhaps that’s one of the real reasons behind these decisions - but let’s be clear, 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!

Myth 7: Seats removed from shops - despite weary Christmas shoppers wanting to rest their feet

The reality: Give it a rest! 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 in a sensible place.

Myth 8: Carol singers are a health and safety risk

The reality: Surely no-one would object to hearing the dulcet tones of carol singers serenading us in the run up to Christmas!

Well, 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 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 simple common sense.

Myth 9: Children are banned from throwing snowballs

The reality: Every year HSE hear 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. All this in the name of health and safety.

If we spend time on the trivial risks, there’s a chance we’ll miss the most important ones. We need to focus on finding ways for things to happen, not reasons to stop them - a sensible approach to managing risk focuses on practical action to tackle risks that cause real harm and suffering.

Myth 10: If you clear snow from outside your business or home you are likely to get sued

The Reality: HSE would like to make it clear that under health and safety legislation nobody who volunteers to support their community by clearing pavements during icy conditions should feel they are in danger of being sued.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) encourages a common-sense approach to health and safety, and agrees that clearing the snow and ice…makes it easier for people to get about.

HSE is focused on the real safety risks at work, and we think it is ridiculous that people should feel prevented from helping others, through a fear of being held responsible for an accident.

Myth 11: Health and safety prevents people putting coins in Christmas puddings

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

However, killjoys have been stirring up trouble saying it’s too risky to put coins inside puddings for ‘health and safety’ reasons.

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.

If we had one wish, it would be to stamp out the health and safety Scrooges who try to dampen the Christmas spirit.

Myth 12: Elf n Safety ruins Christmas!

The reality: Don’t believe everything you read!

The HSE’s mission has been to ‘sleigh’ the most commonly encountered festive health and safety myths. Yet, the myth we hear most often of all is that ‘elf n safety’ has ruined Christmas.

We hear of events being cancelled, Santa stopped from parading in his sleigh, and festive displays being banned, all blamed on ‘Health and Safety’ reasons.

Health and safety laws exist to provide safeguards against people being seriously injured or made unwell at work, not to hamper fun activities.

So on that note, we’d like to say Bah Humbug to all the festive killjoys out there and a very happy Christmas to everyone else!