COUNCIL chiefs have been condemned for using “mythical” health and safety rules as an excuse to lavish £50,000 on new furniture.
Scottish Borders spent the money on new tables and chairs for its debating chamber in Newtown St. Boswells, giving as one of the reasons that existing furniture was too heavy for staff to handle.
But a panel of the Health and Safety Executive itself has publicly criticised the council, accusing it of trying to “hide behind health and safety”.
The Executive’s Myth Busters Challenge Panel – which scrutinises health and safety decisions – said the council should instead train staff how to move furniture properly.
Council leader David Parker complained that tables and chairs at the Newtown St.Boswells building were “too heavy” and had to be assembled and reassembled up to five times a day by staff.
Councillor Parker also complained that a carpet would have to be replaced because it was “frayed, marked and very badly worn”.
The council agreed to fund the £50,000 upgrade earlier this year, as part of an £80,000 refurbishment, claiming the fixtures had been “condemned on health and safety grounds”.
It is understood that as a result of a complaint, the decision to spend the cash was called in front of the Myth Busters.
They concluded: “If the council is purchasing new furniture and carpets because the current stock is old and worn out, it should declare this as the case. Not hide behind health and safety.
“There is no specific regulation which relates to the weight of furniture.
“The cost of replacement could be avoided if the council as an employer was to provide adequate staffing levels and training for the movement of the furniture and carry out repairs to the carpet.”
Moira Ballantyne, Conservative group leader on the council, called the spending “a disgrace.”
She said the council should admit the real reasons for the new improvements were that someone just fancied comfier chairs, better tables and a nicer carpet.
“If you asked most people what they would rather see £50,000 spent on, when we have schools needing classrooms refurbished and disabled access for toilets, I can pretty much guarantee comfier new chairs for councillors to sit on and a new carpet would not be a priority,” she said.
Councillor Parker defended the spending, claiming the council could not continue with its “current practice of assembling and reassembling” the furniture.
He said: “We didn’t say that it was exclusively health and safety and accepted that part of the reason for replacing the furniture was that it was at the end of its useful life for the council chamber purposes.
“However, as part of the assessment we did look at the tables from a manual handling point of view and it was clear that we could not continue with our current practice of assembling them and reassembling them with the current staff compliment.
“The carpet again was in a poor state and the ongoing cost of repairs to it was seen as prohibitive.
“Before making a decision to replace we carefully looked at all aspects of the change and health and safety was one of the considerations, and that was supported by the assessment that we had carried out.”
Other health and safety excuses exposed by Government myth busters recently include a golf course in Ayrshire that banned electric-powered golf carts because they were “too hazardous”.
Midlothian Council was criticised for building a treehouse outside the grounds of Tynewater Primary in Pathhead because the existing on-site treehouse was “too hazardous”.
Also slammed was a cafe that refused to let a mother heat baby food in a microwave.