Back in 1999 I spoke at Health and Safety Review conference in Green Isle Hotel and the title of my presentation was – The Shattering of Myths. Back then I listed the 9 top myths that I felt existed in health and safety. I am now re-visiting them and updating them for the situation that exists in 2015 – are they still valid, or have they vanished and are there any new ones I wish to add? See my thoughts below:

Myth No. 1 -There is no safe way to do this job

This view still exists so we health and safety professionals need to work harder to educate managers that there is a safe way to do everything, if you are bothered. Those four words are the important ones here. Yes it will take some time and some resources but the benefits will far outweigh the injuries, pain, suffering and costs associated with those injuries.

Myth No. 2 – Employees will be careful and safety will happen

Again it is changing but not quickly enough. We are still relying on employees to be careful in some highly dangerous work situations. If the workplace, equipment, systems and chemicals are all unsafe then the most careful employee on the planet will still get hurt. Not because they are stupid but because the odds are stacked against them. We must address the underlying hazards within the workplace and either eliminate them or control them to create a safe place of work for everyone.

Myth No. 3 – Managers know about safety – sure it is common sense

Common sense will simply not cut it anymore. Common sense is not the same as effective workplace design, realistic risk assessment and relevant training. All Managers in charge of people at work need training on an on-going basis in order to manage it and this includes Senior Managers who sometimes believe they are above training…..

Myth No.4 – We are not having many accidents so everything is safe

This chestnut is still around. Not having accidents does not mean all is safe and healthy. Your organisation could be very close to a major incident for all I know but you have just been lucky so far. We need to move away from lagging indicators (accidents/incidents/ claims/days lost etc.) alone and include leading indicators which really tell us how good we are. They include measuring all of the following: training delivered, safety audits carried out (and scores achieved), risk assessments updated, new equipment or work practices assessed, toolbox talks given, safety consultations with employees, benchmarking ourselves against the best in our industry etc.

Myth No. 5 – Rules do not apply to management

This one is still quoted to me. Yes the rules do apply.  Rules, providing they are based on sound risk assessment, are there to protect everyone. That includes the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) if he visits your building – you will need to provide him and his entourage with the relevant PPE. I had to do this when I worked in industry when President Mary Robinson visited our manufacturing facility. No one is above the rules. Management must be seen to obey the rules themselves and believe in them before they can re-enforce them with their staff. They must be perfect role models all the time. That is what leadership is all about – leading from the front.

Myth No.6 – Only the big multinationals do this safety stuff

Still quoted in 2015. Not true any more. Many small companies are more dangerous than larger ones and need to address them. It is not about size, it is about the nature of the work being done and how hazardous that is. Small companies need to integrate health and safety into their daily operations and it need not cost the earth. They do not have to employ a full time safety person if they do not need one but they do need to obtain advice and training from a competent consultant.

Myth No.7 – Safety will cost a lot of money

This was widely quoted during the recession when money was very tight. Try having accidents and look at the damage to employee’s lives and the costs that go with that. Prevention is always better and cheaper than cure. Companies do not have to go broke to be safe but they do have to manage it in a reasonable way.

Myth No. 8 – We can relax our guard in the recession

This was partially true as there were fewer inspections during the recession but that has now changed. Not that we manage health and safety just because we might be inspected. The recession is over, work is picking up and so are the risks for all workers. Managers need to look at the demands being made on employees and ensure that there are enough resources (time, money, expertise etc.) to meet those demands. More needs to be done to plan for work that is safe and without risks to health. It is all doable for the very good reason that we are not in business to injure people.

Myth No. 9 – Health and Safety people go over the top, want to stop the work and don’t understand business

This was said to me only recently. It is not true. Us health and safety bods do, however, have a view on how the work should be done, when, by whom, using what equipment etc. in order to protect those doing it or affected by it. We very rarely stop the work, but we do want to be involved in designing it, planning for it, resourcing it and running it so that health and safety is built in.

There is a new myth:

Myth – No. 10 – We have insurance if anyone gets hurt so what is all the fuss about?

Insurance, when it pays out to an injured employee or worse still to the family of an employee killed at work, is really too little too late. Insurance is only needed when all other “safety nets” have failed and the injury or the fatality has happened. No amount of compensation can restore someone’s life if they have suffered a life-changing injury.

Prevention is the business I am in (together with all of my fellow health and safety professionals) and in an ideal world insurance should never be needed. Money put into prevention is far better spent that paying insurance premiums. And if your organisation has lots of accidents then your premium will go up anyway.

You may have Myths of your own to add to mine. If so I would love to hear about them. Perhaps we can compile a list of the greatest Health and Safety Myths of the year. Do get in touch to add yours or to comment.

This blog is one in a series written by Mary Darlington on aspects of Health and Safety and Safety Leadership – to read others go to:


Mary Darlington is Ireland’s foremost Safety Leadership expert. She is a passionate health and safety trainer, speaker and consultant operating in Waterford, Ireland. Visit her website at: