Press Releases

The dangers of hanging baskets – University of Reading

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.


The School of Law is ranked joint 7th (along with Cambridge) for world-leading research and international excellence and 11th out of 67 university Law Schools across all research categories. Its strong performance in the recent (2008) Research Assessment Exercise reflects the high academic standing of the School of Law's staff and impacts positively on the quality of both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.

University of Reading

The University of Reading is rated as one of the top 200 universities in the world (THE-QS World Rankings 2009).


  • The University of Reading is one of the UK’s top research-intensive universities. The University is ranked in the top 20 UK higher education institutions in securing research council grants worth nearly £10 million from EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC. In the RAE 2008, over 87% of the university’s research was deemed to be of international standing. Areas of particular research strength recognised include meteorology and climate change, typography and graphic design, archaeology, philosophy, food biosciences, construction management, real estate and planning, as well as law.


  • Standards of teaching are excellent - the University scored highly in the National Student Survey 2009.  87% of Reading students responding to the survey stated they were satisfied with the quality of their course.


  • The University is estimated to contribute £600 million to the local economy annually.


·        University of Reading is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.


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