H&S, and how I’ve managed so far

The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 may have been enacted in the workplace in the same year that I started my full time employment, but not so much as you’d notice, it took further legislation and the revised Act of 1999 to make a full time profession of “The Company Health and Safety Officer”.

How I hate the name “Officer” after any job title cannot be emphasised enough here with its implication of heightened self importance.

Just very recently I was in a warehouse of a very large supermarket and need to check a network socket just to make sure that the plug was fully engaged in it but as it was just above arms reach I needed something to stand on in order to reach it, my stepladders were in the car outside but they are quite tall and I couldn’t be arsed going to get them so I asked in a managers office if they had such a thing as a short pair of stepladders laying around the place, hell I would even have stood on a chair for that would have sufficed but would probably have given them palpitations.

They did have a short pair of stepladders, in fact they were very short, they only had two steps and were the sort of thing you’d use to get something off the top shelf of a cupboard if you are a shortarse, but before they handed them to me they asked, in all seriousness and with a straight face, if I had been stepladder trained.

“Yes” is what I said.

Its a lie because I have never once attended a course called “stepladder training” and nor do I want to especially not for a pair of stepladders that only elevate you two feet off the ground, I think I can manage without the aid of a training course to climb two steps thank you anyway, but I said “Yes” and prayed that they wouldn’t ask to see my certificate for elevating with the use of two steps and indeed they didn’t, they handed me the steps, I stepped up the two steps and checked the plug, it was secure so I carefully descended the two steps and handed the stepladder back to them, thanking them as I did so for to be polite in even the most ridiculous of situations is a life skill that I follow.

Inside my head of course I was laughing fit to bust but also thinking of all of the situations I have found myself in since 1974 that would cause the Health and Safety officer of these premises to blow an artery in gasping flummoxed disbelief.

Like the time circa 1976 when on a building site where a six storey block of flats was being constructed on a hillside site so that the front of the building was actually eight storeys high and at the front of the building was a self-supporting scaffold right to the roof, that is that the scaffold is not actually attached to the building at all, worse still the scaffold was also standing on the slope and so everyone who used it for several months just prayed to their own choice of deity every morning that the scaffolders hadn’t been on the piss the night before they erected it and was it really “good enough” to simply stand the scaffold tubes on sheets of plywood laying on sloping wet grass ?

So I’m five storeys up walking along the scaffold and there is a guy on the level above me who was pushing a barrow full of sand screed and so the free standing scaffold is swaying around like a drunk trying to find his car keys in his back pocket when as if this was not bad enough I trod on a broken board, that is a scaffold board that has previously snapped, probably because some idiot has just wheeled a barrow full of sand screed over the top of it, but its bent almost in half and not completely broken so now its like a hinge and some scaffolder checks it out and decides that its either ok to use or it will be funny to see someone stand on it – so it was my turn to walk unawares across the broken board and my foot goes straight through it and suddenly I’m down on one knee and gazing over the side of the scaffold down sixty feet to the ground and this is a huge joke to the joiners working on the same level – just to remind you, we have no safety netting on scaffolding in 1976, no kick boards, no hand rails, you sort of act on your own accord with no reliance on risk assessments or precautions.

And then of course I am reminded of the time when I was a mere stripling of 11 years of age and a new starter in the First Form at Leeds Modern and its almost our very first lesson in the metalwork lab with the white overall clad Mr McIver in charge and he puts me and Rick Thorpe in charge of cutting thirty pieces of quarter inch steel into two inch square sections and he gives us thirty seconds instruction on how to use the electric saw, a huge machine that looked just like you think it should, it had the biggest hacksaw you’ve ever seen and when you switched it on it made a sawing motion while you held the metal plate underneath it.

What can I say, it was 1968 and risk assessments were for the next namby pamby millennium, he gave two eleven year olds thirty seconds instruction on using an unguarded electric saw and then pointed at the huge blade and said “Dont get your hands anywhere near that” and walked off to show a different eleven year old kid how to fire up the blacksmiths brazier and heat metal until it melted.

And so we positioned the piece of metal and Rick Thorpe said he’d switch the saw on but that I had to hold the metal closer to the blade, so I did and he switched it on and the blade sawed my thumb off.

Well not quite, but it did leave a deep very ragged cut that bled like a butchered pig and we had to keep going to find new dirty rags to wrap it in so that McIver wouldn’t notice, it should really have had stitches but after about two weeks it started to heal and I was fine, I was a kid in the 1960s, we didn’t give a fook about things like that.

I saw Rick Thorpe again just last month for the first time in nearly 50 years at our class reunion, beer and curry evening and I reminded him that he started the saw when my hand was under the blade and he thought for a minute and said “Oh yeah, I remember that, funny wasn’t it ?”.

Health and Safety – who cares ?



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