Heath and safety regulations run amok

by Mark Lee

On a recent trip out to Vancouver I was left shaking my head in dismay. For once it wasn’t the behaviour of one of my colleagues at fault, which is a refreshing change, it has to be said. The subject of my disapproval this time is health and safety. That’s a strange thing to find a problem with, you might say, but if you have ever worked in Britain, you will know exactly why I feel this way. Over there health and safety is an industry; almost every company has a health and safety officer and from my experience, their role in this world is to think up things to complicate my life. Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that we don’t need adequate protection and safety in the workplace. We do, that is not in question, but there’s a big difference between safety and ridiculous policies that even the most reckless people don’t need protection from and my experience in B.C. has confirmed that some of those polices have followed me across the Atlantic. I pulled up at a guard shack to check in at my receiver. It is now provincial law to wear high-visibility clothing, so I had my Hi-Viz waistcoat at the ready. But the guard also insisted I wear safety shoes. I told him they are in my side locker and I would put them on when I got out of the truck, but oh no, this wasn’t good enough, I was not allowed on site if I wasn’t wearing them. I mentioned that I was driving a 75-ft. long tractor-trailer and anything big enough to damage my toes whilst in my cab was going to cause a bit more damage than any boot would protect me from, but rules are rules, so the boots had to go on my feet before I was allowed on the premises. Now I have size 12 feet, so I get my boots from the same store as Ronald McDonald. I actually drive in just my socks, I have better control over the pedals this way as it is a direct contact between them and my feet – there isn’t a square yard of rubber in between and there is no danger of hitting the brake and the throttle at the same time, as there is when I wear boots. I pointed this out, but by this time the guard was getting bored with me. Boots on or turn around, were my only options. Of course being diplomatic and a representative of not only my company, but the trucking industry as a whole, I put on the boots. I pulled my truck into the yard, opened my trailer doors, hit the dock I had been assigned and went to hand in my bills. I entered the building and walked 10 feet down an alleyway created by some chain link fencing to the receiving window. At no time during any of this did I encounter anything that could injure my toes in any way, except for almost tripping up the steps because of my silly clown boots. In some ways I can understand the need for high-visibility clothing whilst on the premises – after all, there are trucks moving around. But that’s the same in truck stops, it’s the same for pedestrians anywhere there’s traffic, so they’re not really necessary, but you could say that they’re a good safety measure. Unfortunately the Hi-Viz is the tip of the iceberg, the health and safety industry uses them as the catalyst to interfere in every single thing we do at work. Here’s an example of just how ridiculous it can get. Twenty-five years ago, back in England, I used to haul pop. Drivers would walk around in flip-flops and shorts. If you needed to get on your trailer to move a strap or whatever, you just jumped up and did your thing, similar to how we do things here in Canada. Now fast-forward to the present. On my last visit back to the land of my birth, I got bored and went out driving truck for a week. I went to the same drink factory and it had changed beyond all recognition. I had to dress in full PPE apparel before I was allowed through the gate, so safety boots, safety goggles, hard hat, safety gloves, my arms and legs had to be covered and of course, I had to wear the Hi-Viz jacket. On reaching the loading area I had to park my truck and follow a walkway to the office. It took such a convoluted path that I lost all sense of direction and it made me dizzy. On reaching the office I was handed a sheet of paper to read and sign. It had the site rules on and from what I remember, was just a big long list of things I wasn’t allowed to do. After handing it back, I was then assigned a dock. Instead of loading through the side, health and safety rules now insisted trailers were loaded through the rear doors. So I backed into the assigned door and a goofy wheel lock arrangement locked my trailer wheels in place. I then had to dolly down and park my tractor in a holding area, lock it and hand the keys in at the check-in desk and sit in a waiting room until my bleeper went off. While I was doing this, a fork truck had placed a pallet with a stop sign on it in front of my trailer and had fitted a lock to the air line connections to prevent it from being moved. Loading was completed and the whole process was done in reverse. I pulled out with my load on two hours after arriving. Two hours of non-stop messing around. It used to take no more than 45 minutes to get a load before all this health and safety nonsense and most of that was spent at the coffee machine chatting with other drivers or relaxing in the cab. I had just endured two hours of being a robot, not allowed to speak to anybody, not allowed to think for myself…I had no clue how the freight was loaded in my trailer or even if it was the correct product. And it all started with a Hi-Viz coat.

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  • Yeah to all that. The hi viz vest has become the new national uniform in the UK. I have been in Canada for 5 years and in that short time i have seen ever increasing regulations which in my opinion is an ever more sophisticated way of “passing the buck”.
    Dont forget its all for “insurance purposes” or “for health and safety reasons you must wipe front to back”.

  • Interesting spin on health and safety in the workplace. However, you forgot to mention the vast number of damage/loss caused on those sites, the liabilities involved, and the (seen and unseen) costs associated with worker injury. Most every one of those ‘silly’ safety regulations was implemented as a result of a clear failure that have direct impacts on the way business is done. Many supply chain providers are subject to customer expectations – so if the customer requires a platinum standard of PPE, then that is what is done to get (and maintain) the business…
    I understand that at the front lines, sometimes the safety measures seem too restrictive, and I agree sometimes they are, but there are also those ‘unseen’ hazards that may unexpectedly arise to bite you in the butt. The company, at the end of the day, is trying to protect your best interests as well as their own, and still remain competitive. After all, that’s why you have a job.