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Ten Health and Safety Myths

There’s quite a lot of myths and folklore around Health & Safety, much of it centred on the smaller businesses that are the backbone of the UK economy. It’s often a case that ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’, so we thought we’d highlight some of the more common misconceptions. Often, it’s rumour and stories that get passed as gossip that are the real problem, not ‘Health n’Safety’. Myths spread and nobody knows where the story first started, but they get passed from person to person, until people believe them as true fact. This list is not in a particular order, though #1 is something often quoted!


#1 It only applies if we have more than 5 employees.

No, the law is that for many areas, you don’t need to write it down if there are fewer than 5 employees. Which means that if there are 5 or more, it must be documented. This is probably the biggest mistake made by small business owners.


# 2 It’s a massive administration burden on small business.

Pathway works 20140820_124548

Well, it can be a massive burden on any business of any size… if you get it wrong.  Good health & safety can improve your business by cutting absence and improving staff performance, amongst many other things. get it wrong, or get poor advice, you can easily create your own administration nightmare.

#3 It’s a huge financial burden.

If you think health and safety is a cost, try the cost of an accident; the typical recovery of costs from an insurance policy is small by comparison. For every £1 you get from an insurance company, you’ll be spending between £8 and £36.


#4 Health & Safety is ‘Common Sense’.

There’s nothing common about ‘common sense’. It’s a phrase often quoted with the benefit of hindsight.  In reality, somebodies ‘common sense’ is a product of their training, education and experience.  If you’ve never been shown how to do something correctly, how do you know that’s what you’re doing?


Blocked Doorway at Venue#5 Health & Safety is easy

Anything is easy if you know what you’re doing. You’re hopefully experienced at your business, but do you know health and safety? You probably have experienced people doing your administration, your accounts, your contracts, so why have an amateur do your health and safety?


#6 All ‘Health and Safety’ people are the same.

No we’re not; there’s a number of qualifications that can be obtained and several levels of professional membership to be achieved. Think of it like taking legal advice depending on the problem; would you want to have help from someone with GCSE Law or a Degree? Would you want someone who has kept up to date, or someone who hasn’t improved themselves for many years?
As the employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that the support you have is competent, not just the cheapest you could find. This was typified by the court case of the Mansfield Publican/Hotelier and the Fire Risk Assessor.


#7 If I engage a ‘Consultant’ that’s everything covered.

No it’s not. Unless the Consultant has given you seriously wrong advice which you have followed in good faith, then the responsibility still lies totally with you. In law, you are required to have competent assistance, but you cannot delegate out your responsibilities as the employer.


#8 It’s cheaper to pay a small fine than pay out for health and safety.

Boy are you in for a shock! That might have been perceived as the case many years ago, but recent increases in penalties and the introduction of Fee For Intervention (FFI) where the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are the enforcement agency has really knocked that one on the head (no pun intended).

Once the HSE find a ‘material breach’, the FFI is £129 per hour for the time they spend investigating. The average invoice is now almost £700 and most cases will involve more than 1 invoice.
If the case goes to court, fines have increased considerably and are now based on the potential hazard, the company annual turnover (not the profit) and the degree of culpability involved. This effectively means that a fall resulting in a broken ankle, which might have resulted in a fine of only £3,000 a few years ago, because the fine was based on the actual injury, can now result in a fine of 100 times that if the potential was death, the company has a good turnover and the management approach is dire.


#9 We just need Barred Door with Rubbish 20150606_155001a few Risk Assessments for the Insurance Company

That may be your initial motivation, but it’s not ‘all you need’. the Insurance company will expect you to be compliant with the Law of the land for your cover to be current. The law requires you to have a Health & Safety Policy Statement; a clear commitment to how you will keep your workplace safe for your employees and other persons who may be affected. after that, you are expected, by law, to have whatever measures are appropriate in place to satisfy this Policy, which includes undertaking suitable and sufficient Risk Assessments and implementing the measures thereby identified.


#10 We just need a few more signs up

Oh dear; I’m afraid ‘Death by Signage’ is not an option. Signs have their place, conveying important information, but they must be carefully placed, contain the right information, and be kept reviewed. A sign reading ‘Caution – Deep Water’ is not appropriate where the correct action is to install a fence!

So there you have it, 10 common Myths that persist about Health & Safety, especially amongst small business owners. If you think you might like to discuss some of these and how they affect your business, contact us here. contact@belvoirsafety.co.uk


Bernard Carey is a Chartered Occupational Safety & Health Practitioner, specialising in providing practical and proportionate support to small businesses.