Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A dangerous hobby ?

PaperworkOver the last few years, more and more model railway exhibitions have required those displaying layouts to complete a health and safety evaluation as part of the paperwork we all have to fill in before attending a show. This is particularly exciting when you are confirming three shows at the same time and have to complete the form for each one.

If I mentioned this on certain e-forums it would start a rant by some members on the whole 'elf and safety culture. This always quickly spirals away until we have long left the realm of toy trains and instead are demanding a return to the days of children fixing looms in factories while the machine is running. I have little sympathy for this point of view - anyone who has seen daytime television on the commercial channels will know that every single advertising break includes at least one ad for personal injury lawyers. The gist is "Has something bad happened to you ? Yes ? Well then sue someone. Anyone. You are entitled to compensation. And there will be loads of it.". I've even been rung up by these companies trying to persuade me to sue for fictitious accidents.

In fact I feel sorry for the HSE. They spend thier lives working out how to stop, often stupid, people getting hurt. Then people who know nothing or the real rules and regs invent reasons for things not to happen and claim it's down to 'elf and safety. There is even a series on the HSE website dispelling some of these myths.

Anyway, these forms are appearing at many serious exhibition venues. I've had to complete them in the past when taking stands at other events so it's hardly surprising that we get to see them when taking a train set. After all, it's the same as any other stand you see.

The correct way to fill out an assessment is to take it seriously. Our hobby may have the image of being carried out by dull, grey men who wouldn't know excitement if it approached them in the street painted pink and with a neon sign saying "Look, excitement" on it's head, but there are hazards.

For example, cable reels. If you use them wound in, they can heat up and (possibly) catch fire. Unwind them, as site electricians are wont to do, and you've many metres of cable lying around to trip the unwary up. On the form you note this and say that you'll tuck it away or tape it down.

Then there are sharp objects. I can't be the only one to have cut a finger by plunging my hand into a toolbox and finding something sharp. That's my own stupid fault, but if you insist on leaving the toolbox on the table, as many demonstrators do, then what's to stop the public doing the same ? And then hollering for an ambulance chasing lawyer ?

Worse, there are people who do stupid things. Leave exposed pointy screws sticking out, think that mains electricity can be handled by those who struggle with point motor wiring and think safety comes as a roll of insulating tape or hang switched on soldering irons where anyone can touch them. I have no desire to be injured by those idiots. The result won't be a court case though,  unless I end up in the dock for bludgeoning them with a bit of their own train set !

So it is a dangerous hobby. And we are all very brave for participating in it. That doesn't make the forms any less tedious to fill in though...

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