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Ups and downs: Health and safety hilarity

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Balancing on a literary ravine, Peter Sherwood contemplates foolish safety measures, silly signs and even sillier announcements.

My morning coffee in the kitchen is interrupted by a bloke dancing around on a ledge at the window, tethered to a fixed point above, drilling into the wall and turning my brain to slop. Not a kamikaze but a professional – a safety line is demanded by law and he wore one. Unfortunately, I know enough about crevasse rescue to understand that in the event of a long fall, the driller’s brilliantly conceived protective arrangement would have either broken his spine like a dry twig or resulted in him being sent home in two halves.

The attachment was a rope strong enough to berth a Carnival Cruise ship. Clearly the pedants at Health and Safety are expert when it comes to the preservation of life, leaving no room for risk – apart from the hawser around this employee’s midriff in lieu of a proper harness. What they are lousy at is arithmetic: My own assessment gauged the distance from ledge to land at around 5 metres. The rope I judged to be 6 metres long. The only item not at risk was the rope, which in the case of a downward plummet would not be strained or tested except for landing with a thud on broken bones below.

Gratuitous advice 

This brings me to gratuitous advice, asinine announcements and silly signs. Well, not really. But I can’t find a device to leap this literary ravine. A recording by a local girl on the DB Ferry, in better English than mine, instructs me to ‘have a nice journey’. What if I’d rather work furiously for 25 minutes or enjoy complete silence, free from boring announcements? And journey? Are you serious? This is not a trans-Pacific yacht race.

But it’s the ‘nice’ part that makes me want to pound the loudspeakers with a dozen rounds from a large artillery piece. Nice is a word that should go the way of Kenny G records. It’s what Billy Connolly calls ‘beige’ – people and things and experiences that are colour-free and tedious. Nice is like pleasant, it says nothing and is not worth the comment. So don’t use it. It’s unpleasant.

On leaving the ferry, we’re assaulted with ‘be alert when crossing the gangplank’. Has anyone ever left a rocking vessel without a modicum of caution? The announcement is as superfluous as ‘thank you for taking our ferry’. Hey lady, this is the only ferry. I would not have bothered had I not needed it. Capiche? Save the thank you for when you’re adding up the day’s takings.

Speaking of which, the gym at my swanky club has 20 rules instructing members on how to behave, all sadly necessary based on the ‘not my problem’ philosophy. Another sign: ‘HK$76,000 worth of towels are lost every year’, as if the joint is raided in the early hours by desperate bathroom accessory addicts. No mention of theft, maybe the towels evaporated. I wish the voice on the ferry would do likewise.


Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 18 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and he has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.

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