The BBC repeats health and safety myths

The BBC are not as gleeful as the Daily Mail in reporting that the Tories intend to ‘reduce the health and safety burden’ but they are equally culpable of repeating myths. The article currently on the BBC News website actually takes myths created by tabloid newspapers and repeats them as fact:

It follows a number of well-publicised cases – such as this year’s official cancellation of a 200-year-old cheese-rolling event in Gloucestershire, due to safety concerns.

This myth has been thoroughly debunked because the event was cancelled due to the event outgrowing its location, the HSE had nothing to do with it. Likewise, the first accompanying photo contains another classic health and safety myth:

Conkers and goggles

The Health and Safety Executive featured this in their Myths section in 2007 and even produced a free poster to reassure schools that wearing safety goggles to play conkers was ridiculous:

This is one of the oldest chestnuts around, a truly classic myth. A well-meaning head teacher decided children should wear safety goggles to play conkers. Subsequently some schools appear to have banned conkers on ‘health & safety’ grounds or made children wear goggles, or even padded gloves!

Realistically the risk from playing conkers is incredibly low and just not worth bothering about. If kids deliberately hit each other over the head with conkers, that’s a discipline issue, not health and safety.

Even the Daily Mail has recognised that this story is a myth – although they still happily report fearful headteachers who insist on the measure and wrap it up in ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ and ‘nanny state’ overtones when it clearly is nothing of the sort – it is another classic misleading headline from the Mail, but at least they point out that the HSE poster and dismissal of the matter. The next picture repeats the cheese-rolling is banned myth:

cheese rolling

The BBC then repeats Cameron’s claims at the time:

When he launched the review in December, Mr Cameron cited cases of children being told to wear goggles to play conkers, restaurants being banned from handing out toothpicks and trainee hairdressers being banned from using scissors as examples of silly practice.

Without challenging any of the examples. For the record the HSE myths section mentions the ‘toothpick banned’ myth, ‘cheese-rolling banned’ and I work in a college in which hundreds of trainee hairdressers happily handle scissors and cut real hair on real people with them.

A few people being daft enough to ban something within their small jurisdiction – their shop / school / restaurant / hair salon – should not shape government policy on health and safety and nor should it make the HSE such a mocked and hated organisation. The HSE have nothing to do with these individuals and as they made clear in April this year, they ban very little:

We’ve said it all before, but there are still too many reports that HSE and health and safety law are responsible for all sorts of bans – cheese-rolling events, knitting in hospitals and even toothpicks!

In reality HSE has banned very little outright, apart from a few high-risk exceptions like asbestos, which kills around 4000 people a year.

Too often health and safety is used as a convenient excuse, but it’s time to challenge this and remind people to focus on the real risks – those that are still causing people to be killed, injured or made ill at work.

Challenge the myths, tackle real risks!

It seems we are still a long way from doing this and the BBC should be ashamed of today’s article.

10 thoughts on “The BBC repeats health and safety myths

  1. I saw that picture and caption earlier today and considered tweeting about it but I knew one of the bloggers would pick up on it anyway!

  2. You’ve got to admire the way the Mail & their ilk make this work for them though.

    1. Distort and exaggerate health and safety legislation/advice.

    2. Impressionable business owner/headteacher/council worker makes silly decision based on understanding gleaned from reading the Daily Mail (rather than HSE guidelines, because they have fewer half-naked celeb pictures).

    3. Daily Mail reports on silly decision as “It’s ‘elf & safety gorn maaaaad!”.

    4. Rinse & repeat.

  3. Look now – the text under the conkers photo now says “David Cameron said children had been told to wear goggles while playing the game of conkers”. It also now says “Earlier this year, the annual cheese-rolling event in Gloucestershire was cancelled amid concerns that the location was not capable of hosting the 15,000 people who attended the previous year’s event.”

    I don’t know whether it’s the lazy repetition of ill-founded right-wing tabloid myths, or the sneaky attempt at backpedalling, so very prevalent in said tabloids, which pisses me off more.

    I expect news from the BBC, not agenda-ridden shite like that.

  4. I think the Mail is quite clever in that it puts stories out like this over the weekend knowing that most news stations are understaffed so they will readily pick up the stories without carrying too many checks.

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