James May

James May on health and safety

To whom it May concern

I write to you from a position of incandescent rage. I like to think of myself, and hope you do too, as a patient and tolerant man, but my face is now such a bright purple I can see it reflected in the screen of my computer.

I'm afraid this is about health and safety. I am currently working on another programme, and never mind what it's about because by the time it's finished it will probably be about health and safety.

In fact, since it's usually Jeremy who's so cross about health and safety, I've actually come up with a new programme the two of us can make. It's called James and Jeremy's Health and Safety Ruin of England. Please don't imagine that we will be sitting around moaning about hi-vis vests or road closures or what really constitutes a trip hazard. Oh no - I have in mind something far more ambitious and proactive. We will be trying to arrange some simple public spectacles - launching a helium-filled balloon from a town square, for example - and then showing you, the viewer, just how much paperwork, jobsworthery and all-round catastrophic arse-ache this involves.

How many precautions have to be put in place to prevent people being hurt by balloons; how much cover has to be arranged before a balloon can be launched without threatening the excess on someone's professional indemnity insurance; the size of the ‘method statement' that has to be circulated and signed off before the council will allow a balloon to be released from a town square, and how far away the spectators will have to stand in order to satisfy the requirements of the risk assessment. And so on.

You think I'm joking about the balloon. Sadly not. Other shows we'd have difficulty putting on for your entertainment include riding around on a bicycle without drinking some water and walking along without wearing the right shoes.

And, inevitably, driving around in a car. Now I look at it, I'm amazed Top Gear has survived this long, because the health and safety implications of being in control of a motor vehicle when you might be dehydrated or a bit tired are so hideous that we should have given up years ago.

“If I have to sign a disclaimer before hiring a bicycle, how come I don’t have to fill in a partwork in free synthetic binders before taking a car up to, ooh, 75mph?”

How can driving possibly be allowed in an age when an unsecured doormat is regarded as a threat to humanity? If I have to sign a disclaimer before hiring a bicycle, how come I don't have to fill in a partwork in free synthetic leather binders before taking a car up to, ooh, 75mph? Surely, driving is now a totally unacceptable risk.

I fear it may become one soon. I have always contended, in the face of people who tell me that the car will eventually cause universal and globe-strangling gridlock, that the car will actually be the cause of its own demise, because once it becomes unusable, people will simply stop using it.

But then I began to think that maybe traffic calming and speed cameras would destroy the car because it would become too bloody annoying to drive anywhere. More recently, it has looked as though the green lobby might succeed in forcing us out of our cars with misplaced moral blackmail.

But now I realise that health and safety will break the spirit of motoring, unless we do something about it. And I think the answer might be quite simple.

Health and safety is all about liability. Someone, somewhere has to be liable for everything, even if you hit yourself on the head with a hammer. Insurance is taken out to protect people from being sued as the liable party in the event that someone falls over, but insurance is invalidated if health and safety rules are not satisfied.

This is a vicious circle of arse covering. Go to some location where a man with a clipboard demands you wear some safety glasses to eat a sandwich, and when you protest he will say something like: "Yes, we know, it's ridiculous, but we have to do it because of our insurance."

But everyone is saying this. Everyone thinks this phoney safety stuff is nonsense, but everyone is scared of defying it because that will invalidate an insurance policy somewhere and leave somebody uncovered and hence bankrupt.

But if we all think it's ridiculous, why are we putting up with it? The vast majority of people are totally in thrall to a tiny number of lawyers and insurance actuaries who are running our lives, our businesses, and our leisure time for us. And in doing so they are ruining our lives.

So all we have to do is find them and then hang them from a lamppost. And then everything will be all right.

James May, Column

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