Things that I think and do
There must be some highly niche and wonderfully specific jobs out in the real world. Who is in charge of manufacturing road signs? Is there someone in a warehouse somewhere making cotton buds? How do you get a job supervising the mixing of hair gel? Someone somewhere knitted my woolly hat (quite possibly someone in Taiwan who has knitted hundreds more).
Somewhere in the weird job scale, between the guy who designs those quick shoe shine things and whoever is in charge of boxing up till rolls for shops, must come the person who has to constantly think of new Health & Safety signs and policies.
Those two little words are bandied around so much these days – pick up any tabloid newspaper or ask anyone over the age of fifty and you’ll get first hand evidence of the derision surrounding ridiculous policies like teaching employees how to open doors. Old people never had health and safety precautions; they didn’t have hi-vis jackets or earplugs in those days. If they got hit by a car or went slightly deaf they picked themselves up, had a pint of bitter and got on with it. Or so I hear.
(At this juncture, let’s get one thing clear: it’s ‘health and safety’ or possibly ‘h&s’ for abbreviation. It is not ‘elf and safety’. If you use that term you’re not being amusing while poking fun at the concept or those who embody it, you’re being a knob.)
There are a lot of asinine warnings out and about. Like the ones telling us not to use the lift in the event of a fire; surely, but surely, no-one is going to voluntarily trap themselves in a small metal box when there are some perfectly suitable and fire-free stairs nearby. No-one but the clinically insane would do that. And yet, just in case someone clinically insane is presented with the lift as an option during a raging inferno, the sign has to be there to say, ‘well, we do advise against this sort of behaviour’.
I generally have a healthy respect for rules. That isn’t to say that I’m not sometimes an uncontrollable anarchist: I’ve taken drinks other than bottled water into many places where that kind of thing is strictly prohibited; sometimes I don’t wear a scarf when it’s cold outside; occasionally I even cross the road at a point other than the officially sanctioned crossing facility. I’ve also been known to trespass onto bits of grass despite the signs saying “keep off the grass” – although technically they only apply to people who are already off the grass anyway.
I’m also a great supporter of both health and safety (primarily my own). But even so, some of the nonsense we have to deal with is…well, yes: nonsense. At the garden centre I worked at a few years ago I was trained thoroughly on how to use the fire extinguishers, and then told that I shouldn’t actually use them if it’s a slightly big fire. To be fair, if I encountered a fire I probably would raise the alarm and leg it, but it would be nice to be allowed the option. At the same place I was also (somewhat arbitrarily) trained to use the highly dangerous-looking rubbish-crusher-machine (technical term), but I was forbidden to use the pallet truck which would have enabled me to transport the rubbish to the rubbish-crusher. Thus rendering an hour (yes, an hour on how to push some buttons) a prodigal loss of time.
The worst aspect of the whole health-and-safety procedure is the blameless, back-covering nature of it all. Standing on chairs to reach a high shelf isn’t allowed, but if you do it anyway and fall off the chair the safety signs all gather around your bruised and crumpled body, looking down at you with arms folded and eyebrows raised saying, ‘I told you so’. Piss off, signs. I don’t need someone to tell me that I might fall off the chair if I stand on it anyway, and it’s even worse if they then reiterate that it’s not their fault. Of course it isn’t your bloody fault; it’s mine for falling off the chair. I’d look like a right tool if I turned around and blamed whoever was in charge for that.
People probably do try to blame someone else though. It’s someone else’s fault I used the lift when there was a fire, and therefore was incinerated in a scorching metal cupboard – there weren’t signs to tell me that only utter morons would do that. Oh, I wasn’t taught how to put staples in the stapler and thusly I have managed to embed a small fragment of metal in my finger.
Some policies are, obviously, sensible. It’s quite wise to wear protective headgear while on a building site, just as it’s probably a good idea to have flashing lights on your bike when cycling on roads at night. Despite how tedious it is, training people how to do good manual lifting is pretty useful (even though hardly anyone does it) and learning about fire extinguishers is helpful in theory, if not in practice.
Maybe it should be that only these basic and necessary policies are actually advertised, so as to weed out the feeble ones in the herd. We’re undermining evolution and natural selection! If we stop training people in how to open doors or replace till rolls, it’s possible that more people may well die in avoidable door- or till roll-related accidents. But do we really want people who find themselves seriously injured by doors to be in the gene pool? Life is dangerous for people with flagrant disregard for any health and safety rules, let alone those pertaining to their own wellbeing, and I doubt it’s long before the Darwin Awards collection includes someone damaging themselves in some way by electing to use a lift during a fire instead of the conventional stair option.