Exposed: How firms hide behind the ‘health and safety’ myth

Many of the most shocking instances of health and safety are in fact made up by officials to avoid law suits or as a cover for bad customer service, according to a new report.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said 150 cases have been handed to its 'jobsworth' panel since it was set up last year, with officials  accused of falsely citing health and safety legislation to explain their strange and unpredictable rules.

The health and safety myths exposed by the executive include a ban on bubbles at children's parties, toothpicks being removed from restaurants and a bar's refusal to serve pints in glasses with a handle.

"We never cease to be amazed by the cases we consider," Judith Hackitt, HSE chair, said.

"The reality is that people hide behind health and safety when there are other reasons for what they're doing – fear of being sued perhaps, or bad customer service. It's time for them to own up to their real motives.

"The sad fact is that while all this nonsense is being spouted, it overshadows what health and safety is really about – ensuring people return home without injury from their day's work, every day."

Other examples cited by the HSE included a hotel which said it could not serve hamburgers rare and a ban on shredded paper being used in a school fete.

Health and safety has become a running joke among many members of the public, who cite the strange and overly restrictive rules as a sign of a society which has become too averse to minor risks.

But the HSE insists many of the rules cited by officials are entirely made-up and that health and safety regulations are usually sensible precautions taken to protect British workers – particularly those who work in construction or manual labour.