5 Examples of Christmas Health and Safety Going Too Far

a woman with long brown hair wearing a hard hat, with an alarmed expression on her face, tangled in fairy lights next to the office christmas tree

“Health and safety” is too often used to unintentionally hinder harmless Christmas activities. Talk about The Grinch! He or she is alive and stealing Christmas in a workplace near you! 

It might be banning Christmas decorations in the office, or not allowing children to throw snowballs. Whatever the premise, health and safety has been held responsible for every kind of silly rule people can dream up. This is despite good intentions, because I believe their hearts are in the right place. It’s just that sometimes an over-the-top approach can take things too far.

Thankfully, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has busted some of these myths over the years to help retain festive spirit.

On the other hand, “elf and safety gone mad” headlines also trivialise the true purpose of health and safety – protecting people from risk.

So, how do you strike the right balance?

In this article, I’ve picked out five examples of NOT getting it right. They highlight how an absence of common sense does little to keep anybody safe or promote goodwill to all (wo)men…

a bright office foyer with christmas trees and a reception desk

5 Crazy Examples of Christmas Health and Safety Going Too Far

1. Office workers banned from putting up Christmas decorations

Every year we hear about businesses stopping staff putting up Christmas decorations because of so-called health and safety concerns, or claiming it needs to be done by a “qualified” person.

In reality, most organisations – including the HSE themselves – manage to spread cheer in the office without incident.

Just remember staff should use step ladders and not stand on their wheelie chairs to put up the decorations.

And take a look at my blog post Six Ways to Bring Christmas Workplace Safely to the Next Level for some good, practical advice for safely decking the halls.

2. You could be sued for clearing snow

Several years ago, health and safety experts issued a warning about clearing snow and ice from footpaths and pavements. They said to be careful and not put yourself in danger – good sensible advice if you ask me.  But somehow, these few wise words got twisted, alleging a person who cleared snow could be sued if someone slipped.

The HSE, RoSPA and even the government responded, with the following HSE-approved reassurance: “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.”

All the same, the myth snowballed so much that the government now has a short page explaining how to safely clear snow.

3. Refuse collectors not allowed to wear Santa hats

Refuse collectors in Colchester were banned from wearing Christmas hats or anything Christmassy. The head of operational services at the time claimed: “This was done for absolutely the right reasons – health and safety,” on the grounds that festive wear could obscure their vision or distract other drivers.

The HSE stepped in to investigate, ultimately stating there’s no legislation that prevents refuse collectors from wearing Santa hats or entering the festive spirit.  

They went on to explain: “Excessive displays which might impede the driver’s vision or cause a distraction are another matter, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Being sensible about health and safety can still allow everyone to have some fun too!”

a row of four gold star decorations on a christmas tree

4. You have to PAT test Christmas lights

Christmas lights have a habit of tangling themselves in knots. In fact, it’s part of the Christmas tradition of putting the decorations up.  But many businesses decide not to use Christmas lights, because they’re unsure about safety.

Albeit, there’s no law requiring annual PAT testing of your Christmas lights, except in circumstances where they might be subjected to extreme stress like harsh outdoor or industrial settings.

So, I suggest a few sensible precautions before putting up your lights, such as: checking them for signs of damage, keep them clear from flammable materials, only buy lights with safety marks and if buying new lights, consider LED’s and remember to turn them off when everyone goes home.

5. Christmas has gone cone shaped

Poole town council invested in an artificial Christmas tree on safety grounds. Nonetheless, the locals weren’t fans, likening it to an artificial grass-covered witch’s hat, a cone-shaped astroturf tree, and an ugly UFO!

The reason behind the change from a real to an artificial Christmas tree was due to concerns about the durability of real trees in wintry sea winds. But locals argued there hadn’t been any injuries in the 25 years Poole had a real tree.

In the end, the artificial one was removed and replaced with a real tree, after vandals climbed up the offending article and damaged the framework.

Whilst I can empathise with the council’s reasoning, it was just taken too far.  There’s no reason why a real tree can’t be put up safely with the appropriate measures. 

a tiny fir tree in a bottle with the greeting merry christmas and happy new year

At the end of the day, it’s crucial to prioritise workplace health and safety. But try to avoid a situation of excessive caution turning you into safety elves. After all, a dash of seasonal sparkle can coexist with a commitment to safety. So, focus on keeping the workplace safe, while allowing a touch of festive magic to brighten your spaces.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a safe, merry and prosperous Christmas and New Year.

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