Saturday, June 25, 2005

Health and Safety Insanity

The papers reported that power failures brought some GNER trains to a halt during the recent heatwave. After two hours in the full force of the sun, the airconditioning failing and temperatures rising to 115F, passengers were forced to smash the windows. Why? Because the doors were shut. Why? Oh, "health and safety reasons".

My temperature rose dangerously when I read this. Health and Safety rules have nothing whatsoever to do with Health and Safety but are purely to prevent lawsuits for negligence. It doesn't matter if people faint in the overheated trains (as some did), and they have medical conditions that will be dangerously exacerbated by their ordeal, well they can get knotted as far as the H&S people are concerned. But it is vital that the doors stay shut in case, HORROR, someone might get out and graze their knee on the gravel in the track bed.

I hope the passengers sue, personally, whoever makes these vicious rules and trains the railway staff how to apply them. But of course they won't be able to. 10 people die every day on the roads in Britain. That's fine. Health and Safety couldn't care less. Making people sweat to death in train carriages, yes, that definitely is good for them and much much better than enabling either windows that open (in an emergency) or doors that open (in an emergency).

One good thing about Underground trains is that the doors at the end of each carriage have opening windows and the doors themselves can be used to cross into the next carriage merely by turning a handle. Power or not, passengers can escape if they have to, even get down on to the track if all else fails. I suppose the H&S people will be along soon to lock up the doors and bolt the windows shut. In case some stupid git has an accident. Never mind what the overwhelming vast majority of passengers want.

Let me give you another, albeit much more trivial example of the stupidity of H & S rules. In my office all the interior doors have to self-closing. Because of "fire risks". So if I am carrying something awkward, like a computer, I must either prop the door open (oops, illegal) or put down the computer, open the door, jam it open with my foot, bend down to pick up the computer and then repeat on the other side to close the door. Now I have bad back and picking heavy objects off the floor is not good for it. Let us do a risk analysis and compare the real damage to me and the much worse, but much less probable, risk to me of a fire. There is at the least a bloody good case for saying that the closure of the interior doors is a greater risk to health and safety than keeping them open. But it is not a case we are allowed to make. Only the opinions of the local Council and the Fire service matter.

No, I am saying a fire could not happen. I am saying that it would be an event with very low probability (our office is non-smoking, has no dodgy electrics, there are always people around etc etc). Whereas I have had back pain and the probability of getting it again is real and measurable.

This rant has been brought to you by The Sick and Tired Society, an organisation for people who are Sick and Tired of being told what to do by other people. Donations by credit card and PayPal will help us carry on our vital work. Thank you.

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