Christmas is an interesting time for businesses. There are lots of temporary changes to work patterns, lots of parties (hopefully!) and most important of all, it’s the time of the year to dust off the decorations and make your office suitably festive. None of these things form part of your usual work activities and so you’ve probably not really thought of these things from a H&S perspective. Happily, a few years ago, the HSE published their “Twelve Myths of Christmas” and so we thought it would be a good time to revisit just a couple of the more relevant points that they raised.
(The full list is here http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/xmasmyths.htm)
1. Workers are banned from putting up Christmas decorations in the office
We’ve heard this one a lot over the years. Workers are definitely not banned from putting up decorations; however as a responsible Employer it just means that you’ve got to be practical about how you do this. Essentially this means using the correct access equipment (step ladders are fine as this would be classed as short duration and infrequent), being careful with decorations near to sources of heat and ensuring that things such as lights are turned off when your premises are unoccupied.
2. Indoor Christmas lights need a portable appliance test (PAT) every year
This is a contentious one. We would suggest that if you have an in-house PAT testing facility, then this would be a good, practical, thing to do to ensure that the lights aren’t damaged. The HSE actually advise that as long as you are checking for obvious signs of damage and not using obviously faulty lights, then this would be okay.
3. You can’t throw sweets out at a Pantomime
It has been seen in the papers. This is a case where the original company involved was simply afraid of having to pay compensation if anyone got hurt and blamed H&S in order to get their way. Our opinion, and that of the HSE, is that it’s a case of “oh yes you can!” Obviously on the proviso that you don’t have someone like Steve Backley (famous javelin thrower for our younger readers) machine-gunning sweets at 100mph!
4. Carol singers are a health and safety risk
They might be a form of noise pollution to some but as long as you follow sensible precautions, such as not signing in the middle of the road or carrying large quantities of cash, then there’s little risk from a hearty rendition of “Jingle Bells”.
We’ve also heard talk of the necessity to apply for a permit to carol sing. Again, we’re not aware of any legal requirement to do this either! Feel free to belt out your favourites at the top of your voice!
5. You cannot clear snow and ice from pavements
We would encourage everyone to ensure that access to their premises is maintained throughout cold spells. It is incredibly unlikely that you’ll be held responsible if you’ve attempted to do the right thing by clearing a path and then someone slips. In fact, we’ve never seen anybody succeed with any claims of this nature in the past 10 years. There are a few tips though to do this successfully:
- Do it early in the day.
- Don’t use water as it might refreeze and turn to black ice.
- Use salt if possible or ash and sand if you don’t have enough salt.
- Pay extra attention when clearing steps and steep pathways. Add more salt if you can.
Remember to enjoy yourself!
Christmas is a time to have fun, not to be swamped by health and safety regulations. As long as you take a reasonable and practical method of planning whatever you’re wanting to do to get into the festive spirit, we’re sure that you will be fine!
By Ian Clayton CMIOSH – Health & Safety Manager