Press release

New UK map of bogus ‘elf and safety excuses

Londoners report most 'jobsworth' decisions to mythbuster panel – with Scots and Welsh at the other end of the league table.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


More people in London and the south east have reported ill-founded health and safety excuses than any other part of the UK, new analysis shows.

Britain’s workplace safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, has analysed the national spread of all reports to the popular Myth Busters Challenge Panel – set up to clamp down on bogus health and safety excuses.

The results show that more people report that they’re told “sorry, can’t do that because of ‘elf and safety’” in the capital and the south east than anywhere else – with more than 50 cases reported over the past year.

The results also show:

  • Yorkshire is next on the league table for reporting absurd edicts – with 22 complaints
  • Wales and the Highlands of Scotland have received the least number of complaints about ‘elf and safety excuses

Minister for Health and Safety Mike Penning said:

Health and Safety regulations save lives – but bogus excuses do nothing more than throw a spanner in the works of otherwise sensible activity.

No doubt the figures will raise an interesting debate about whether they reveal the extent of over-zealousness or show that people have had enough and are no longer prepared to put up with nonsense excuses.

Either way, it’s good to see so many people on the side of restoring common sense.

Map and a list of regional and national highlights of the daftest “health and safety” decisions

Map of elf and safety madness

View map of elf and safety madness (PDF, 1.39MB, 1 page)

Some of those exposed in the capital include:

  • the cleaners at London underground stations banned from wearing woolly hats in winter
  • a well-known department store which refused to serve fried eggs in a “full English breakfast” for fear of a pan fire
  • British airline flying out of Heathrow who refused to serve boiled sweets to passengers suffering ear-ache

Next in the national league table is Yorkshire, where residents have to put up with their fair share of bad customer service dressed up as health and safety – with 22 complaints.

Those living in Wales and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland have reported the least number of absurd edicts, with just 8 cases reported in each.

Other ridiculous examples from other parts of the country include:

  • a housewife from Kenilworth who was told by her fishmonger they would not fillet her fish because it was too slippery
  • kids in Midlothian forced to traipse hundreds of yards to use their new tree house because the local council refused to build one on their own land
  • a woman who had her parasol confiscated at a racecourse, but told she could have it back if it rained

HSE Chair Judith Hackitt said:

It’s becoming increasingly clear just how many petty jobsworths there are hiding behind health and safety for fear of being sued or because they simply can’t be bothered. I want more people to have the confidence to challenge these excuses. If it doesn’t make sense to you then you are probably being fobbed off – many people are beginning to realise that now.

The Myth Busters Challenge Panel was set up in April 2012 to help the public challenge petty and misguided decisions wrongly made in the name of health and safety. Since then there has been more than 210 complaints to the Panel, with the huge majority of cases having no basis in law.

More information

Anyone who suspects a case of ‘health and safety madness’ can contact the independent panel of experts if they feel they have been on the wrong end of a ridiculous decision.

Contact Press Office

Press Office

Caxton House
Tothill Street


Media enquiries for this press release –

DWP Edward Davies – 020 3267 5108
email –

HSE Jason Green – 0151 951 4548
email –

General enquiries – 0203 267 5117

Follow DWP on:

Published 22 November 2013