Image of health and safety

Despite strong support and the success of real health and safety, recent years have also seen the emergence of 'elf & safety' myths – crazy stories that are more to do with liability aversion or people using false excuses for poor customer service and decisions.

IOSH believes many of these stories are the result of misguided people who haven't taken professional advice and have made up the rules themselves. We welcome moves to debunk the myths and, instead, to recognise the many benefits of good health and safety for individuals, employers and society – an investment not a cost.

The facts

  • Recent independent reviews by Lord Young of Graffham, Professor Ragnar Löfstedt and Martin Temple, all found the UK health and safety system broadly fit for purpose.
  • But despite strong support and the success of real health and safety, recent years have also seen the emergence of 'elf & safety' myths – crazy stories that are more to do with liability aversion or people using false excuses for poor customer service and decisions.  
  • For some, the term is now a 'catch-all label' for anything perceived as 'nannying', with stories often involving the public, leisure activities or children.
  • Real health and safety, on the other hand, is about proportionality and realising the benefits of a culture of care where work is safe, healthy and supportive.
  • Good health and safety management saves lives and prevents serious injury and illness and positive feelings about work have been linked to higher productivity, profitability and customer and worker loyalty.
  • Tragically, in 2014-15  142 workers were killed, an estimated 445 died in work-related road traffic accidents and thousands more died from occupational cancers.
  • IOSH and others are concerned that the crazy stories can undermine public perception and understanding of the sensible, proportionate and reasonable steps the law requires.
  • This growth in negative coverage has coincided with TV 'no win, no fee' personal injury adverts, which seem to fuel fears of being sued and defensive decisions.
  • research study found decision-makers believed the top two solutions to preventing over-cautious decisions were definitive guidance and access to professional advice. 
  • Following rebuttal work, including starting the Myth Busters Challenge Panel  for complaints about decisions made in the name of health and safety, HSE reported a reduction of 12.5% in negative media stories.
  • Negative media portrayal was identified by health and safety professionals as one of the top three issues facing the profession in an IOSH survey
  • IOSH-commissioned research into the perception of health and safety regulation in the UK since 1960, found it had been relatively stable over time and that health and safety continued to be viewed as a social good (see IOSH research reports).

Our position

IOSH believes the crazy 'elf & safety' stories are generally the result of misguided people who haven't taken professional advice and have made up the rules themselves. Others seem to be inaccurately reported or confused with different issues such as security, political correctness or civil liability. All of which brings occupational safety and health unfairly into disrepute.    

So, we're calling for a more 'risk intelligent' society, with widespread education about what health and safety law really requires and better access to good advice and guidance. We welcome moves to debunk the myths and, instead, to recognise the many benefits of good health and safety for individuals, employers and society – an investment not a cost.  

We're also doing all we can to make sure our own house is in order, including achieving Chartered status, requiring members to do Initial / Continuing Professional Development and to be bound by a Code of Conduct. We repeatedly pressed for the accreditation of health and safety consultants to help ensure good standards and supported the development of the national register.  

We urge others to join us in helping debunk the negative stories, including insurers and the legal profession. We'd also welcome more positive publicity about the benefits and business case for good health and safety at local and national levels, as highlighted in the IOSH Li£e Savings campaign and our joint policy paper on The business case for engineering in health and safety. 

IOSH provides a number of free tools to support proportionate health and safety within organisations (see here) and the IOSH Blueprint competence and skills framework. For more about our public benefit and charitable work, see our annual report.

Relevant IOSH consultation responses