Is health and safety used as a ‘smokescreen’?

Health and safety came to the fore in the media yet again this week, with minister Mike Penning claiming: ‘Health and safety has long been used as a smokescreen by jobsworths who have little knowledge of the law and who want to fob people off with an easy excuse’. You can read more at:

Paul Almond appeared on the Today Programme on Radio 4, BBC Radio 2, 5Live, and BBC Radio Berkshire to discuss issues around health and safety myths and health and safety as a smokescreen.  Paul welcomed  Mr. Penning’s recognition of various media stories as myths rather than matters of law and agreed that ‘health and safety’ is often seized upon as an excuse. You can listen to the full discussion on BBC Radio Berkshire here: (from 16 minutes in).

Regulatory Myths in the media

Paul Almond appeared on BBC WM (West Midlands) yesterday to talk about “health and safety gone mad” and a recent “case” highlighted in the Daily Mail newspaper involving a War veteran who had been banned from acting as a flag-bearer at a Remembrance Day event due to ‘health and safety’ ( The link to the radio show is here: (at 33.20). Paul was happy to explain that there was nothing in the law to stop the gentleman involved acting as a volunteer, and that he was probably the victim of a ‘can’t-do’ attitude on the part of insurers and organisers.

Issues around misperception are a central part of what our project aims to understand.  HSE has long worked to address this kind of story via its myth-busting website, review panels, and media activity, but new examples do endure. Why is it that there is such an appetite for these stories? What understandings do they seem to confirm, and why is health and safety so vulnerable to these attacks? Is it simply the media having fun, or is a political agenda being advanced? What wider views of the legitimacy of health and safety do they seem to confirm?


Finally, the media’s role is not just limited to poking fun at ‘jobsworths’; sometimes the shoe is on the other foot! Private Eye ran a good story last week about the Daily Express, an organ that is very fond of an anti-health and safety story or two, banning kettles in their offices because of, you’ve guessed it, ‘health and safety‘!