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Health and Safety (Not) Gone Mad

Health and safety might not be the first thing that gets a priority with your small business, but sooner or later you are going to have to give some consideration to it.

Health and safety is a much derided phrase that gets thrown around with a lot of negative connotation attached to it. The more ridiculous over-reactions in this field tend to make headline news, but this is often because they are the exceptions. Even with some of those that seem ridiculous, the actual facts are rarely known.

For example, the infamous Stella Liebeck McDonald’s coffee cup case which is held up as the gold standard of frivolous lawsuits is not very well understood. As a result of a successful lawsuit in the US involving a woman burning herself with a McDonald’s cup of coffee, the fast food chain had to pay out $640,000 and print a warning on all of its cups saying that its coffee was indeed hot. This may seem ridiculous until you understand some of the facts of the case:

  • McDonald’s was telling its restaurants to serve coffee at between 82-88 degrees Celsius. This is unnecessarily high for coffee and can cause third degree burns in 2-7 seconds.
  • The spillage took place in a drive through after Stella Liebeck tried to take the lid off the coffee, spilling it into her lap. This resulted in third degree burns over 6% of her skin, lesser burns on 16% and all of which resulted in 8 days hospitalisation and skin grafts.
  • Stella Liebeck was also 79 when this happened.


Dim recollection of studying the case also suggests that un-necessary speed bumps immediately after the drive through were involved too.

Generally speaking health and safety has not gone as mad as you might expect and you should pay very close attention to it if you haven’t already done so.


It is very easy to dismiss health and safety concerns as the sort of thing those particular health and safety people worry about that don’t have much impact on reality, but realistically, it is a basic common sense step to take in safe guarding your business. If you have concrete health and safety procedures in place, you will after all be even less likely to need to fall back on your liability insurance.


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