Misguided "jobsworths" are robbing children of educational experiences and fun by over-zealous application of safety laws, the head of the Health and Safety Executive said.
HSE chairman Judith Hackitt accused employers of cynically using health and safety rules as a "convenient excuse" for avoiding activities that might cost money or expose them to being sued for personal injury.
Warning that "the gloves are off", Ms Hackitt warned that her organisation is ready to take on the bureaucrats who use health and safety rules as a scapegoat when they make "daft decisions" to ban innocuous activities.
Health and safety rules were wrongly blamed for decisions to make children wear goggles when playing conkers, to ban running at a pancake race and to stop tennis fans watching the Wimbledon action on big screens from Murray Mount, she said.
Ms Hackitt told the Daily Telegraph that health and safety had become "shorthand for someone, somewhere, stopping someone from doing something they want to". She sent out a message to anyone using it as an excuse: "Don't use health and safety law as a convenient scapegoat or we will challenge you."
Excessive and unnecessary application of restrictions on unfounded health and safety grounds threatens to spoil children's experience of growing up, said Ms Hackitt.
"The creeping culture of risk-aversion and fear of litigation... puts at risk our children's education and preparation for adult life," she said.
"Children today are denied - often on spurious health and safety grounds - many of the formative experiences that shaped my generation. Playgrounds have become joyless, for fear of a few cuts and bruises. Science in the classroom is becoming sterile and uninspiring."
In many cases, the people behind unreasonable rulings were "well-meaning but misguided jobsworths" who have the public interest at heart but go too far, she said.
But she added: "A trend of far more concern to me is the use of health and safety as a convenient excuse by employers and other organisations cynically looking for a way to disguise their real motives."