Saturday, 7 June 2008

Barmy Binmen

If you were asked to name a career that was likely to expose its workforce to controversy and outrage, what would you say? Politicians are obvious candidates, and so are celebs of all kinds. High profile boffins might be in with a shout, too, with relentless armies of clueless plebs determined to prove themselves better than the best in the field.

In fact, you could probably assemble a fairly long list of likely professions, but I doubt that binmen would be leading the pack. Apart from a distressing reluctance to do any actual work, they don't have many newsworthy traits, and it's unusual for them to make the headlines in their own right.

But things are looking up for the humble refuse collector. Twice this week they have featured in very different stories, each with a very different - but equally ridiculous - health and safety bent.

First, there was the story of Haringey Council, in North London, which is attempting to ban binmen from sticking teddy bears on their bin wagons. I read about this in a motorway services the other day, but can't recall what paper it was in. And since I can now only find it online in the Daily Mail, I'll just have to swallow my anti-anti-plastic-bag stance and link to the Mail.

According to the Daily Mail, Doug Taylor, general manager of Haringey Enterprise, sent out a memo in which he wrote: "Quite why adults would wish to decorate their vehicles this way is frankly beyond me. These items could attract children who may run into the road and suffer injury. On the grounds of health and safety and presenting a professional image of our company, I want all such decorations disposed of with immediate effect."

On the strength of those words, I should imagine there are quite a few things that are "frankly beyond" Mr Taylor. But, just in case he really can't figure it out for himself, he might want to consider these words. "Tradition", "fun", "a bit of a laugh in a dirty job". He might also want to look up exactly how many times a child has been shown to run into the road, whether or not they have suffered injury, as a result of a teddy bear on a bin wagon. Not many, I'll wager, although, thinking about it, I can't help wondering if his youth might have been blighted by an irresistible teddy bear chasing compulsion. And, while he's doing that research, he might want to consider the words "miserable" and "bugger", too.

The notion of a child even noticing the damn bears, let alone running after one, is simply inconceivable. Today's brats are largely blind to anything other than the fastest way to relieve the rest of us of, in no particular order, our money, our mobile phone, our car and our life. And if, by some incredibly unlikely combination of circumstances, one of them is both stupid enough (far fetched) and athletic enough (almost beyond belief) to run, in fits of excitement, into the road in pursuit if a garbage truck mounted teddy, their untimely demise is hardly likely to be of catastrophic consequence to the human race, is it?

And then there's the equally odd story of West Wiltshire District Council's binmen, who are refusing to empty wheelie bins if they cannot pull them to cart using just two fingers. According to the Sun, this unofficial health and safety policy is designed to protect staff from heavy bins falling off lorries and prevent them from damaging the trucks’ hydraulic lifting system.

What is the world coming to when dirty great hairy-assed binmen daren't put a bit of muscle into moving a bin? Pansies! And how crap must the lifting system be if it can't empty a fully loaded bin - if it's that feeble, the Council should surely have issued smaller bins to start with! You can bet there won't be any such objections when the Council gets around to dishing out (if they haven't already) RFID chips for their wheelie bins, though, and concocting schemes to charge residents by the amount of stuff they throw away. Oh no, when that comes to pass - and you know it will - they'll be only too happy to pile on the bins, no matter how heavy they are, and the residents' bills for this service will not be slow to arrive, either.

No, given the opportunity to fleece the public for more money, despite the fact that they've already paid enormous Council Tax bills for the same service, you can bet that the two-finger rule will be dismissed with a single upraised digit, along with any wimpy binmen who try to make it stick.

Perhaps they could get hold of a few bear costumes and offer themselves as mascots to their colleagues in Haringey, instead.

Billy Seggars.

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