5 health and safety at work myths ‘busted’!

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Written by: Alcumus
9th June

Health and safety in the workplace is somewhat of a grey subject for some employees and understanding fact from fiction is a conundrum that many face.

Listed below are 5 health and safety myths which according to the HSE have now ‘been busted’:

1. Building site employees cannot wear shorts to work

Unless your employees are required to wear specific personal protective equipment (PPE) as part of their role or contractual employment arrangements, in some circumstances (such as working with wet cement) there is no legal health and safety obligation that can be acted upon. Alcumus does however advise employers to encourage all workers to take a sensible pragmatic approach to ensure appropriate clothing is worn in line with corporate dress code and is suitable for the job in hand. The risk assessment will decide the appropriate clothing to be worn.

Employers will have to take account of the weather, in hot weather skin should be covered to avoid sun damage. On extremely cold days skin should be covered. A cold environment challenges the worker in three ways: by air temperature, air movement (wind speed), and humidity (wetness). In order to work safely, these challenges have to be counterbalanced by proper insulation (layered protective clothing).

2. Kettles banned in offices

The office environment is not considered a high risk work place and office workers (you’d hope!) should be deemed old enough and responsible enough to use electrical appliances and carry hot open-topped cups. Alcumus advocates that employers undertake regular visual inspections and testing of electrical appliances to pre-empt potential electrical failure of any workplace appliance as well as encouraging a common sense approach when dealing with hot liquids particularly if hot liquids are carried up and down staircases.

3. Bah Humbug

There’s been a rumour going round that during the festive period staff are not allowed to put up Christmas decorations as they pose potential health & safety risks. The HSE confirms that there is no harm or risk involved to employees in putting tinsel around their desk to make the work environment more festive. Alcumus recommends employers insist on the use of suitable step ladders to put up decorations rather than leaving staff to balance on wheeled chairs. A work at height risk assessment will need to be undertaken first. Some environments are more hazardous than others and so appropriate judgement is required to minimise such risk.

4. No flip-flops in the office

Some office based companies have been known to deter staff from wearing flip-flops on the grounds of health & safety risks. According to the HSE, law doesn’t ban them however there remains an apparent risk regarding falls, trips and slips. Alcumus strongly recommends that suitable footwear be worn at all times and particularly in environments where the floor can’t be kept dry or clean, wearing shoes that fit well and have a good grip is necessary. Employees should also abide by any corporate dress code. Open toed footwear should not be worn if employees are expected to carry out manual handling tasks such as carrying files, boxes or move furniture or have to go into storage areas. Suitable footwear should be worn if employees are using stairways, handling hot liquids or working at height (using elephant foot stools, or small steps etc.).

5. People don’t have to take any responsibility for their own health and safety

In this day and age it is widely recognised that employers have a duty to protect workers and the public from dangers caused by workplace activity. At Alcumus we strongly believe that health and safety isn’t entirely the responsibility of the employer. Alcumus encourages employers to empower their staff to take a personal responsibility for keeping themselves safe, by co-operating with safety measures and not putting themselves or others in danger.

Several pieces of legislation include employees duties such as The Health & Safety at Work Act section 7 & 8 – to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work.