The Health and Safety Executive has exploded 150 health and safety myths, many of which apply to the hospitality sector, in the first year of a panel designed to fight back against ruses to ban legitimate activities.
Among the hospitality-related myths exposed by the panel in 2013 alone were:
- The bars that refuse to pull pints in glasses with handles
- The burger that could not be cooked rare
- The toothpicks removed from the table of a restaurant
Health and Safety Executive chair Judith Hackitt, who heads a team of experts that rules on cases when "health and safety" is suspected of being cited for bogus reasons, has called for those making daft decisions to own up to their real motives.
She said: "We never cease to be amazed by the cases we consider.
"Why on earth do people think that they can get away with banning pint glasses with handles, or burgers served anything other than well done, claiming they are a health and safety hazard?
Employment minister Mark Hoban, who has the Government portfolio for health and safety, said: "I despair when I read cases like these. Health and safety is there to protect people from serious risks, not to be abused by jobsworths who stop people getting on with their lives."
Among cases that the panel handled were:
The bars that refuse to pull pints in glasses with handles
A woman (who prefers not to be named) contacted HSE's panel after she was refused a pint glass with a handle. She says that in various pubs and hotels she'd been told such glasses were now illegal, due to health and safety reasons. However, she was subsequently served with them in other pubs and bars.
The panel told her: "There is no occupational health and safety law preventing the use of glasses with handles. Health and safety should not be an excuse to justify decisions made for other reasons and the pub should be challenged to explain the real reason for no longer offering glasses with handles."
The burger that could not be cooked rare
David Hope, 40, from London, was told by a hotel chain that it was unable to serve burgers rare because of health and safety laws - something the panel was quick to rule out.
Hope said: "I'd ordered a steak and asked for it to be cooked blue. The waiter then came back from the kitchen to say they had run out of steaks. I asked what else they had and the waiter said they had burgers, which were made from mince taken from the same steaks. I asked for it to be cooked the same way and the waiter said they were not allowed to, for health and safety reasons. I spoke to the manager, who was insistent this was the case. I said I would contact the HSE challenge panel.
"I find the whole idea pompous that, rather than think about something, people just spout ‘health and safety'. When you challenge them, and they can't justify it, they then invent something - and the easiest one to hide behind is health and safety. It's usually nonsense. I think the sooner you can burst the bubble of pomposity and get people to live with the consequences of their actions, the better.
"We have to challenge this - otherwise, when it's something that matters and when it's something that might put someone in danger, people will be turned off and won't pay attention because of all the trivia that gets blamed for health and safety."
The toothpicks removed from the table of a restaurant
After eating a meal in a restaurant, Joel Gordon, 42, from Glossop, Derbyshire, requested a toothpick, but was told he could not have one on health and safety grounds. The panel told him: "There is no health and safety regulation which stops toothpicks being handed out in a restaurantâ¦whether or not to provide toothpicks is about cost and customer service NOT health and safety."
Gordon said: "I'd finished the meal and I asked for a toothpick. The waiter said we don't have them and that was down to health and safety. I said 'what is it about health and safety that stops me having a toothpick?' He said 'dunno, it's just about health and safety'. I'm a grown adult - I'll take the risk of putting a toothpick in my mouth. It was just nonsense. I come across this all the time. My local charity shop says not to leave coat hangers in the clothes you send them, as it's down to health and safety legislation. Why can't they just give the real reason? Perhaps it's just that they don't want them, or they've got too many."
The hotel which houses this restaurant is now under new ownership and toothpicks are now available to all.