The dangers of hanging baskets
Release Date 04 December 2009
Stories in the media about health and safety gone mad are giving regulators a bad name making it more difficult for them to play a positive role in protecting the public, according to a leading researcher in the field.
Dr Paul Almond, of the School of Law at the University of Reading, says regulatory myths, such as towns banning the use of hanging baskets, are retold so many times that people’s acceptance of health and safety regulations in general declines.
“Myths and ridiculous stories tend to misrepresent what bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) actually do,” said Dr Almond. “This damages their reputations and the important messages they need to get across.”
Dr Almond’s comments come in a week when health and safety has been very much in the public eye from both the Conservatives and Labour. He has been researching regulatory myths and their affects on the public and recently published a paper on the topic.
He believes that regulatory bodies need to highlight their positive work of protecting the public rather than countering negative myths.
Many of the regulatory myths often have no factual proof but are widely-believed. Dr Almond cites several instances – including children wearing safety goggles to play conkers, and towns banning floral displays in case they fall and injure someone.
In the former, the headteacher did it as a publicity stunt to highlight risk assessment in general and in the latter no hanging baskets were actually removed, just checked to make sure the supporting lampposts could take their weight. Similarly, a pancake race was stopped after many years not because of health and safety regulators but because the organisers misinterpreted the rules.
Dr Almond said: “These fuzzy stories are difficult to debunk - in fact refuting a story can often enhance its perceived truth. While an individual story about a pancake race is unlikely to do much lasting damage to the HSE, the cumulative effect of many such stories is more significant. Myths are silly stories that have serious implications.”
Further information from Rona Cheeseman, Press Officer, on 0118 378 7388
Notes to editors
Dr Paul Almond is available for interview. Please call the press office number above to arrange.
His paper has been published online:
Almond P., 2009 The Danger of Hanging Baskets: “Regulating Myths” and Media Representation of Health and Safety Regulations. Journal of Law and Society 36 (3): 352-375.
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