Monday, May 18, 2009

Column for Dec 4 2008

Johnston Press owns this shit. Reprint it and I will cut you.

AFTER watching Channel 4’s ‘Cutting Edge: The Fun Police’ last week, I’ve started thinking seriously about health and safety. We are, we are told, all in a significant amount of danger at any given time, in any given location, especially at work.
My own workplace is no different. The Fife Free Press office has wheens of posters (well, three) telling us of ways we could come a cropper. You know the sort. Pictures of people with haircuts from 20 years ago tripping over conspicuous cables, or slipping in spilt coffee with looks of shocked stupidity on their faces. We were recently handed a risk assessment checklist that basically asked us to assess the risks of sitting at a desk and using a phone. It’s as if they think the phone cord might leap up and garotte me, or that the chair might throw me off and roll all over me with its little plastic wheels. About the biggest danger I’m in is the danger of a coronary from my increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Then there’s fire. In the event of a fire, as we know, we should proceed in an orderly fashion to the nearest fire exit (usually just the door you normally use). But if there really was a fire in the building, would you honestly go in an orderly fashion, or would you run full-pelt towards the door, shoving over co-workers and leaving them to fend for themselves? That, I think is the purpose of all of these fire drills - so that when a real fire actually happens we just won’t believe it and tramp out miserably like usual.
Whenever you get a new job, of course, you have to go through the bother of learning how to survive in the jungle that is the modern workplace all over again. You will be sat down, and usually shown a video containing all the common sense things that we really ought to know anyway. Things like: don’t stick your extremities into machinery, and don’t try to reach things on high shelves by standing on top of a swivel chair in high heels. Since I myself don’t wear high heels, this isn’t a problem for me, but it does make me wonder what sort of a person would do that sort of thing in the first place. I mean, for that to appear in a health and safety video it would have to have happened to someone at least once, correct? I would like to meet that woman. I bet that every time she and her colleagues are called for refresher health and safety training she hangs her head in shame as she is taunted with great vigour.
One thing the video will always tell you is the correct way to lift a box, even if your job does not actually require you to lift boxes. I have absolutely no idea why this is. One thing I do know is the apocryphal tale that once a weight lifter lifted a heavy dumbell wrong and their bowels fell out. Maybe this is the same principle. We couldn’t have someone’s bowels falling out of them at work, could we? I can hear it now: “Where’s Jimmy?” shouts the manager. “His bowels have fallen out!” comes the reply. “Well then,” the manager tuts, “he should have lifted that box with his knees, not his back!” That’s you telt, Jimmy.
I suppose that health and safety videos, in the end do offer some sage advice, even if in an emergency it tends to go out the window. My own dad, the scientific genius that he is, once nearly crispy fried himself trying to put out an electrical fire with a water fire extinguisher. This is something I would avoid, firstly because I saw a health and safety video that explained to me that water plus electricity equalled death, and secondly because my own keen sense of self-preservation (cowardice, to some) would not allow me to do something as dangerous as fighting a fire.
To be perfectly honest, with the amount of training in health and safety I’ve had I must be a black belt at avoiding injuries and/or death by now. Even from primary school it was instilled in us. We had visits from policemen, telling us how to cross the road properly, visits from firemen, who gave us little cartoon pictures of homes in which we had to circle every fire hazard we saw. Let me tell you there were an awful lot of hazards about. In fact probably only reason some of us go out now is because there are so many things that can kill us in our own homes. Thanks for nothing, school! I know virtually zero about science or mathematics, but I do know an awful lot about fire safety. I’m just another member of the mollycoddled, paranoid health and safety generation.

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