Father Christmas banned… and other festive health & safety myths

The festive season is just around the corner and preparations are already well under way to give streets, buildings and even offices a more glittering presence. However, earlier this November one town in Dorset were sadly told that their traditional parade, which has been running since the 1970s and involves Father Christmas arriving in a lifeboat, would be cancelled due to health & safety reasons. So what are we allowed to do at Christmas? We explore our top three festive health & safety myths and truths.

1. Don't deck the halls

Myth: Christmas decorations around screens or desks are a health &safety risk. 

Truth: As previously demonstrated by the HSE’s own Christmas mythbusters page in which they refer to their own office, it is perfectly fine to have tinsel around desks and screens.

It is true, however, that Christmas decorations could lead to a higher number of accidents in the workplace. In particular, care must be taken when putting up decorations at height. Employers have a duty to ensure all work at height is:

  • Properly planned and organised.
  • Performed using proper equipment.
  • Performed only once unnecessary risks are eliminated.
  • Completed using equipment which is in working order.

So although it is okay for staff members to have their own decorations, employers need to make sure that they are put up safely. E.g. no climbing on desks to attach mistletoe to the celling!

2. I’m dreaming of a … dark Christmas

Myth: Indoor decorative fairy lights need to be PAT tested every year.

Truth: Faulty fairy lights have caused electric shocks and burns to employees. Contrary to popular belief, the HSE has stated that such Christmas lights do not have to be tested annually. Sensible precautions should be taken and those suggested include checking for obvious signs of damage.

More importantly, don’t forget those loose wires running across corridors and walkways are a cause of slips and trips. Regulations require that flooring in a workplace is free from obstructions which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall – even at Christmas.

3. Hark! The carol singers

Myth: Carol singers are a health & safety risk.

Truth: As long as a common sense approach is taken, such as not singing on the road and being a risk to road users, the HSE has stated that there are no health & safety concerns regarding carol singing.

There is usually a different group of people who need a bit more attention at this time of year. Temporary workers are often engaged at short notice to cover the extra demand or extended opening hours of businesses. The regulations impose a responsibility on employers to ensure that these members of staff are aware of health & safety policies in place and are adequately trained and supervised. You may also find the need to give some extra training to ensure staff are aware of the health & safety issues in relation to dealing with large crowds of customers.

So that concludes our top three health & safety myths and truths of the festive season.

As to the little town of Poole in Dorset, you’ll be pleased to know the local council, businesses and organisations have come together to get Father Christmas back on the boat. 

Author: Lesley Cheung

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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Steffan Groch

Partner and Head of Regulatory - Head of Sectors

I head up DWF's national Regulatory team as well as leading the firm’s ‘go to market’ sector expertise. I am also Chair of the UK Health and Safety Lawyers Association.