THEY are symbolic of the traditional British seaside holiday, hired by the hour or the day for the purpose of relaxing and gazing out to sea - ice-creams, cups of tea, sunhats or blankets optional, depending on weather.

But as anyone with experience of deckchairs knows, there is an art to transforming three rectangles of wood and one of stripy plastic material into a useable seat.

From today Bournemouth and Poole councils are supposed to enforce new European Union health and safety legislation by introducing short courses in how to put up and use deckchairs safely.

Anyone wanting to hire a council deckchair will have to go through a half-hour training session first. At the end of the course, they will be given a certificate, which they will have to show for any future rentals.

The EU wants the new policy to be backed up with patrols and inspections, and recommends £10 on-the-spot fines for anyone who sits on a deckchair without the correct paperwork.

European health and safety expert Professor Pilar Olof, who has spent the last five years researching differing attitudes to legislation within the European tourist industry, said: "There's no doubt Britain is leading the way in enforcing these new EU rules.

"People tend to dismiss a lot of health and safety measures as bureaucracy gone mad, but the fact is dozens of people end up in accident and emergency departments every year because they have tangled with deckchairs. Norway, which is where my father came from, is even thinking of banning deckchairs altogether."