Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Health and Safety – gone sane?

The Health and Safety Executive publish stories under the heading “Myth Busters” aiming to debunk some of the more ludicrous examples of “elf & safety gone mad”.

But I think they miss a trick or two.

Today’s story reads (I hope they forgive the large quote):

Case 227 – Gluten free hot chocolate can not be served due to health and safety regulations

Issue

The enquirer was due to travel on a seasonal promotion activity run by two connected steam heritage railway organisations. The passengers take a steam train ride with staff in a variety of character costumes etc. with cookies and hot chocolate being served as part of the experience. The enquirer sought information about whether the served hot chocolate was gluten free and was told that H&S Regulations prevented them accommodating special dietary requirements.

Panel decision

The organisers of this seasonal train ride are either unwilling or unable to accommodate specific dietary requirements and are using health and safety as an excuse for poor customer service. Citing health and safety regulations is not only a poor excuse but also wrong. In this instance it has left a customer out in the cold.

Clearly the HSE don’t want to be thought to be supporting this sort of “nonsense”, and I have some sympathy for them.

Whenever I hear “H&S Regulations prevent …”, I ask “which regulation?” Rarely do I get an answer. Sometimes, I get a mumble about some internal restriction – often imposed by lawyers or insurance companies.

Clearly this story is a creditably short summary of a particular case, but I do wonder if the HSE is being entirely fair. It may not be “poor customer service” but a genuine concern by people (Railway Restorers) who are not well-informed in the details of specific aspects (Food Safety) of Health and Safety.

In this case consuming gluten may represent a genuine risk to some people. Here we have an activity put on by “two connected steam heritage railway organisations”. Such organisations rely heavily on volunteer staff.

One of the key aspects of Health and Safety Management is “risk assessment”. This starts with the basic question (arising from the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act) “have I ensured, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all my employees (section 2 (1)) and that I and other persons (not being my employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety (section 3(2)).

In this case the risk is that someone who is allergic (or even sensitive) to gluten is supplied with gluten having been told a drink is gluten-free. To ensure that this does not happen you have to very clearly identify (and if necessary separate) products (in this case gluten-free and possibly non-gluten-free). With a voluntary organisation this is difficult (you only need one well-meaning volunteer to go and get some more supplies from a local shop); with two voluntary organisations operating together (for a short period each year) the opportunity for error is vastly increased. I think it is therefore quite reasonable (and practicable) as a result of an assessment of these risks to decide that “for health and safety reasons” they will not accommodate special dietary requirements.

I have taken a lot longer to say all that than the HSE’s myth bust! But I think they should be encouraging people to think through risks and to come up with appropriate solutions. Perhaps they might insert an additional paragraph in the middle of their “Myth Bust”.

Case 227 – Gluten free hot chocolate can not be served due to health and safety regulations

Issue

The enquirer was due to travel on a seasonal promotion activity run by two connected steam heritage railway organisations. The passengers take a steam train ride with staff in a variety of character costumes etc. with cookies and hot chocolate being served as part of the experience. The enquirer sought information about whether the served hot chocolate was gluten free and was told that H&S Regulations prevented them accommodating special dietary requirements.

Risks

The main risk is accidentally supplying a non-gluten free product to someone who is sensitive to gluten. This is probably exacerbated by the involvement of volunteer workers from two organisations co-operating on a once a year activity.

Panel decision

The organisers of this seasonal train ride are either unwilling or unable to accommodate specific dietary requirements and are using health and safety as an excuse for poor customer service. have probably made a reasonable decision, based on a risk assessment, to not accommodate specific dietary requirements. It is unfortunate that they cite Citing health and safety regulations is not only a poor excuse but also wrong. In this instance it has left a customer out in the cold. rather than simply explaining that they cannot guarantee their ability to accommodate specific dietary requirements.

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