Monday, 11 March 2013

You'll die, and it will hurt all the time you're dying

So, after a two and a half hour drive to work this morning, the week's off to a great start!

Especially as we've just been told (on the quiet, so don't tell anyone) that there's probably going to be a fire drill today... Yes it is snowing, yes I do have a meeting with some prospective suppliers today, yes I will be stopping in my office to pick up my overcoat and my iPad before I go and stand in the carpark for 45 minutes.

Health and Safety... There's a subject.

We've all been told stories by friends of friends (or in the red-tops) about bizarre rules that 'they' are trying to introduce that 'they' blame on Health and Safety.

The one where Butlins holiday parks banned the Dodgems, because people were using them as 'Bumper cars' (Did you know you were supposed to AVOID everyone else? I know I didn't), schools all over the country couldn't have sack races because kids might fall and bang their little nosey-woseys, or pensioners being forced to drag their old TVs down fifteen flights of stairs so that the burly council workers wouldn't hurt their backs.

Well, these are all well and good I suppose, but I've had a few health and safety talks in my life that actually made sense, gave you good advice, and helped to keep me sane, well adjusted, and more importantly, breathing.

I used to spend a lot of my time in computer rooms.  You've all seen them on the TV, big football field sized rooms, filled with boxes of flashing lights, spinny-roundy tape machines and comfortable brown carpets. They have orange vacuum formed chairs and are entirely staffed by men from the 70's with huge moustaches, brown corduroy jackets and loafers, they're usually called Dave (The people, not the computer room... Who'd call a computer room Dave? That would be stupid). During my indoctrination for a company that will remain nameless, I was shown the fire supression system for the computer room.

'This button releases the CO2 from those nozzles in the ceiling,' Said the HR guy who was giving me the tour, 'The last person leaving the room, when there's a fire, hits it on the way out.'

'What happens if there's anyone left in the room?' I asked, full of wonder and amazement.

'Well, the doors lock, then the CO2 pushes all of the air out of the room, the fire stops, we go in to recover the bodies of everyone you've accidentally killed, then you get the sack and charged with manslaughter.'

'So we check for people first then...'

'That would be the best plan by far, yes.'

Shortly afterwards, the CO2 extinguisher was replaced by Halon, a great gas that doesn't push all the air out of a room, right up until they found out that it gives you liver and kidney failure and does a great job of drilling a hole in the ozone layer. Now most companies just use a clone of Supernanny Jo Frost, who reasons with the fire until it realises what it's done and just goes out of its own accord.


Whilst working at the busiest airport in the UK, we (The new IT team) decided to go on a tour of the tunnels underneath the airport during a nightshift. The reason we gave the security guys was that we needed to trace a few cables and locate some comms cabinets. Actually, we were all bored to tears and thought it might make the nightshift go by faster.

The security guy who gave us the do's-and-don'ts was great, he showed us on a map where all the cool bits were, how to get into the hangers, where Concorde was (and more importantly which machines gave out the free coffee and what buttons you had to press to get it). He checked our 'Airside' passes, little cards that let you onto the parts of the airport where the planes live and said:

'If you hear the words [Deleted for National Security Reasons] come over the tannoy, walk briskly back to the Terminal buildings, trying to look very innocent and British and non explosive.'

'Why, what does it mean?'

'Well, we don't get a lot of military traffic, what with RAF Northolt being just down the road, but that's what they announce when we are getting some, it's only usually in an emergency.'

'Right, got it... What if we get stuck out on the far end of the runway? There is some kit out there isn't there?'

'Ah... Well that would be bad for two reasons.... One, the Military Security guys who come flooding out of the woodwork have no problems at all with shooting people, and Two, Military jets will quite happily land on bodies, dead or alive.'


And the last one for today, because I've realised how late it is (Damn this work thing for getting in the way of my literary life) was during a stint at a synthetic pharmaceuticals company - This was the only Heath & Safety orientation I've had where there was a test afterwards. The H&S guy here was incredibly serious, he didn't take kindly to jokes or even to people who didn't take things as seriously as he did.

We had a tour of the factory, which is in a large City in the West Midlands (Mentioning no names, but it was a popular flight excursion location for members of the German Airforce in the earliy 1940's), and looks like a perfectly normal office building - However, a great majority of it is one huge room, with one way glass in the windows so that it doesn't scare anyone. Then we toured the laboratories... Well, we toured the corridors where the laboratories were. The H&S chap gave us a set of ground rules.

'You will never enter any of these rooms whilst procedures are in progress.
You will never enter any of these rooms unless you have a legitimate reason for doing so.
If you need to enter any of these rooms you will press THIS button and this button only and wait for someone to open the door, you will not bang on the glass.
If the red light above the door is lit or flashing you will vacate the area and report to your normal work area and await further instructions.
If the red light is flashing and an alarm is sounding, make your way to the nearest emergency exit.
Do not ever open one of these doors, even if there is someone in the room that needs medical attention, professionals are on their way.
If someone seems to require assistance but the red light is off, use the emergency telephone to summon assistance and then return to your work area and await further instructions.' He took a breath.

I said, 'Why?'


'Why can't we help people if they need help?'

'Are you trained to handle hazardous materials?'

'No.. not as such,'

'Do you know the of 1994 CHIP regulatory notices?'

'No.. But if they..'

'Are you a trained Firefighter with hazardous substances training?'


'Are you a Doctor? Do you own your own HazMat suit?'

'Well.. Not exactly, but..'

'Look, I know you mean well, but some of the chemicals that we regularly use here are incredibly dangerous, if someone who is trained in their use gets into trouble, what chance do you think you will have?'

'I don't know, but it..' I was starting to splutter by this point,

'I'll tell you, you'll have exactly no chance, if you're lucky, you'll only touch something that will make you violently allergic to all forms of plastic for the rest of your natural life, if you're unlucky you'll breathe something in that will instantly make you throw up your lungs whilst your intestines make a more southerly exit.'

'Right, so, let the professionals handle it?'

'Yes, touch nothing, ever. There's a good chance you'll die'

And you know what? - I didn't, luckily I didn't get a call to fix any kit in working labs. Although, I have fixed kit in operating theatres, which an operation was in progress.

Maybe I'll tell you about that one day.

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