Sunday, 2 August 2009

Warning - Reading this may produce eye strain

The scaffolders turned up out of the blue yesterday to take down the superstructure that has covered the house for the last three months. Mrs. H and I were just returning from a trip round the shops and a sneaky lunchtime drink, when we noticed scaffolders swarming all over the front of the house. Sadly, they didn't take it all down; there was insufficient room on the lorry to carry it all away. But they've promised to come back later this week and remove the rest of it. I won't hold my breath...

Despite the recession, I would imagine that scaffolding companies probably don't do too badly. Our burgeoning Health and Safety culture means that most traders will refuse to do anything above first floor level without scaffolding. Time was when roofers would scramble up a ricketty ladder, run up the tiles and onto the apex of the roof, whilst eating a cheese sandwich and smoking a roll-up. But all that's changed. Perhaps we should start advertising for native Americans (or, more specifically, Mohawks from the Kahnawake reservation) to do the high stuff. It's said they were employed in the USA to build skyscrapers as they had no fear of heights, although it's more likely that hopping around steel girders hundreds of feet up was just an opportunity to display the same sort of bravery they exhibited at ground level.

In the UK, Health and Safety legislation has more or less put paid to the old-time tradesman's ability to take calculated risks. Way back then, workers like the common or garden roofer knew instinctively what was safe and what wasn't. He wore the right gear for the job; knew how slippery or otherwise the slates or tiles were; and had a good enough notion of his ability to climb or balance. But now, the law decides what is or isn't safe, and ensures that you or I have to stump up huge amounts of money for scaffolding whenever we want so much as a tile replaced. But I'm not complaining.

So, how did Health and Safety take over the world? How have we wound up with a world where bags of nuts display the legend 'contains nuts'? Where a teacher is forbidden from putting an Elastoplast on a child's grazed knee in case the little treasure is allergic to it? And where a police force that shall not be named (oh, alright, Northumbria Police!) is planning to dispose of its £200,000 fleet of motorbikes because the police officers riding them are "particularly vulnerable to collision"? I'm really not sure, but the Health and Safety gurus would probably say that 'It's all about protecting the public'. So, if we are only now living in a world where we are well-protected from hazardous chemicals, poisonous foods and unguarded machinery, how the hell am I still here? Let's look at the evidence...I'm 54 years old. When I was born in 1955, polio and whooping cough were still common. At school I rubbed shoulders with kids who had measles and chickenpox (and managed to catch both simultaneously), and took part in rough playground games. I ate and drank things that were far less strictly quality controlled than foodstuffs are now, and totally failed to wash my hands. I travelled on buses and trains, literally surrounded by 'strangers' who hadn't been checked out by the police. And I'm still alive.

But I'm only joking. I'm grateful for Health and Safety legislation. It means that the water I drink is unpolluted, that my food is mercifully free from rat droppings, that my gas boiler won't gas me. But, watching Seaside Rescue last night, it struck me that we are still unprotected from the biggest danger of all - ourselves. Seaside Rescue regularly shows RNLI lifeboat crews, lifeguards and Royal Navy Air Sea Rescue risking their lives to save members of the public who have put themselves in danger through their own stupidity, be it climbing crumbly cliffs, surfing in dangerous conditions, or putting to sea in imposibly small boats with no lifejackets, navigation equipment or skill in sailing. What amazes me is the professionalism and good humour exhibited by the crews as they rescue the umpteenth moron from a situation in which he has placed himself (or, indeed, herself). Don't they ever get irritated by it, like I do? Do they ever think, 'Oh no. Not another dopey townie who thinks he's Bear Grylls!'?

And another thing...the RNLI is funded entirely by voluntary subscription. Its lifeboat crews are all volunteers, who will put out to sea in all weathers. To the best of my knowledge, they have never refused to turn out, no matter how dangerous the conditions are. So why is it that paid members of the emergency services on land failed to prevent a man from drowning in 18 inches of water? Because the 15 foot embankment he had tumbled down after being hit by a car was deemed 'unsafe'...So, if you witness an incident at your local pond or stream, don't call the fire brigade or police; ask for a lifeboat.

So, what the hell am I on about? Not for the first time, I'm unsure. Perhaps I'm trying to say that I do not subscribe whole-heartedly to Health and Safety culture. After all, I've managed to live through six decades, most of them health and safety free. I've taken (and survived) calculated risks, both at home and at work, and maybe a couple of times I've done things that were stupidly dangerous. But I've never done anything daft enough to warrant a trip on an air sea rescue helicopter. So, how do we promote safety for all without burdening society with yet more laws? It's simple. It's my belief that every child, as soon as it is old enough to read, should be handed a laminated card bearing a single word - 'THINK'.

But I'd make sure the corners were rounded. After all, those laminated cards can be awfully sharp. They'd take your eye out...

13 comments:

Comedy Goddess said...

Sounds like maybe the RNLI should take over roofing projects too.

mo.stoneskin said...

"In the UK, Health and Safety legislation has more or less put paid to the old-time tradesman's ability to take calculated risks."

H&S legislation has pretty much ruined everything. I despair, lift my pint and read my book, how else can I cope with the situation?

chris hale said...

CG - Why, I do believe you're right! They're certainly one of the bravest bunch around. Climbing onto a little roof should be a piece of cake for them!

Mo - Have you been on the course that shows you how to lift your pint without straining anything?

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Wow Chris, you have so hit the nail on the head. It's not just H&S, it's the whole fabric of the First World, we simply don't allow people to live anymore, there is NO freedom. I have tried to allow this idea to percolate through my blog ramblings. A question I am often asked, on the net, in the bar, anywhere; why did you choose to live in Brazil? It's not Brazil, I am escaping from the First World where one is still allowed to climb on one's roof in whatever haphazard way to do whatever.

The pint problem is solved here, we have teeny little glasses a tad bigger than a shot, anything bigger allows the beer to get hot between mouthfuls, so there is no risk of severe strain.

Third World, lovely place for all its faults.

AV

chris hale said...

AV - Hello again.

It does make you wonder how we coped before they brought in all these rules and regs to make us safe, doesn't it? Brazil sounds like a refreshing change from all that. And I bet there isn't a speed camera anywhere in sight!

Derrick said...

Hi Chris,

You are so right! It annoys me that just about everything in the food line is now plastered with 'MAY contain nuts', even when it's been made in a factory that doesn't process nuts! Or bottles of bleech that say 'do not drink'! We seem to be sanitising ourselves out of existence.

punk in writing said...

So that's why builders never show up on time... it's probably not safe to drive on roads where there are other cars.

Ans about the nuts thing... soon you'll be required to wear a sign saying "I ate nuts in the last 24 hours" so someone who's allergic to nuts doesn't snog you by mistake.
Not wearing your sign will probably be illegal...

chris hale said...

Derrick - Yes! What happened to good old common sense? Probably banned by EU Regulation 97621/M/W/44908. Or something...

Punky - I hope no-one from the European Parliament reads your comments - they'll make it law and claim the credit for themselves!

redhairedqueer said...

I'm just wondering - while we're reminiscing about the olden days - all this social hugging we have now, isn't that a modern (and to my mind quite unnecessary) invention?

I'm sure in the past we used to keep ourselves to ourselves. Perhaps the government could do something about that too. I, for one, would be very grateful.

chris hale said...

RHQ - Hi, and welcome! Yes, we do rather wear our hearts on our sleeves now, don't we? I find it helpful to wear a sleeveless t-shirt!

Do we want the government to do something about our inability to keep ourselves to ourselves? My main concern would be that they'd find a way of taxing us for it...

Stevyn Colgan said...

I've always firmly believed that 'Health and Safety' should be re-labelled 'Anti-Stupidity'. Let's face it, many of the laws and regs are to stop stupid people doing stupid things. But why? Let's clear out the shallow end of the gene pool.

chris hale said...

Stevyn - I love the idea of the gene pool having a shallow end. And Gene Pool also sounds rather like an American singer from the fifties.

Trouble is, if we cleared out the shallow end of the gene pool, what would become of all the banjo players and the people who keep sports clothing manufacturers in business?

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Bit late getting back Chris, but yes we do have speed cameras, but with typical Brazilian laziness and ineptitude they are either broken and if they work, they have run out of film. It took Brazilians about a year to figure that out, so are about as useful as tits on the proverbial bull.

The beer is refreshing, Brazil is changing, busting a gut to be a part of the first world, unfortunately.

AV