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« You might not be the only one waiting for your boat licence | Main | This Pontcysyllte Aqueduct post doesn't have the H-word in it »

Wednesday, 01 July 2009


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Doug Bostrom

"And now I must go to write an irritable letter to the manufacturers of my car asking why the hell it sounds a nannyish bleeping all the time I don't have a seatbelt on - even if I'm just manouvering it from one parking space to another at 5mph"

Hah! Excellent!

Here in the States, many years ago, vehicles briefly sported an interlock feature that did not even allow a vehicle to be started without the front seatbelts being fastened. Engineers did imagine situations wherein that rule would need to be violated, so a large red button was provided to override the system. On the examples I remember, the button was located under the hood (or bonnet, that is to say). After a few people had run themselves over or been otherwise injured, this "feature" quietly vanished, never to be seen again.

Andrew Denny

One can justify any level of protection against any degree of risk to a grieving widow, of course.  If you are exposed to an infinite number of impossibly unlikely risks, you will come a cropper very quickly.
But there are two issues: 
1: What is the risk? 
2: Whose responsibility is it?
RISK: A few weeks ago, a rep for one of our clients was killed in a road accident on the way to a service call, his head being crushed in a road crash. 

If he'd been wearing a helmet in the car (like rally drivers) he might well be alive today.  Indeed, if everyone drove all the time with a full harness and helmet, it would probably save a LOT of lives. I'd argue the risk BW workers are exposed to is probably far greater when driving between jobs than when removing weed from a lock overspill (I've got a photo of that - must pull it out for you).

RESPONSIBILITY: I'd also argue that an employers duty is not to cosset and protect the employee against all risks, but simply keep him informed of the risks and offer him the protection if he asks for it. 

But it's patently obvious that the canals are FAR more dangerous for inexperienced boaters than for BW workers anyway.
And now I must go to write an irritable letter to the manufacturers of my car asking why the hell it sounds a nannyish bleeping all the time I don't have a seatbelt on - even if I'm just manouvering it from one parking space to another at 5mph....

Doug Bostrom

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I definitely agree with you on the tendency of regulators to overdo it, entirely in our own interests, heh!

If you'll just permit me to grind on this for another moment, to me it's all about odds. For workers routinely exposed to hazardous situations and those who employ them, it really does become a matter of statistics and respecting what happens when the dice are often rolled.

In my own line, I'm responsible for some folks who have to climb wireless towers on a daily basis, as well as those who standing below under an occasional hard shower of dropped bits. We fairly constantly have to issue reminders about "clipping on" for those up the truss and to put a hardhat on for those down below. Caught up in the work, these guys have a tendency to forget about those details, yet if they're exposed to hazard over and over again, they end up with bad odds of coming up snake eyes.

Meanwhile, I'm at risk of getting stuck with potentially a grieving widow, children missing half their expectancy, etc. I just -never- want to make that phone call. Yet we have fellas who say they're excepted from the odds. Very frustrating!

BTW, since I'm in contact let me mention how fascinating your evening exposure are to me. I'm inspired to go get a proper DSLR with a low-noise chip.

Andrew Denny

Doug, many thanks for your kind comments.

Hard to know where to begin to defend myself re lifejackets. Should I start with the practicalities (eg where it's not helping and simply gets in the way) or with the compulsion and petty tyranny (removing the right of people to look after themselves) or with the illogicality (grown men treated like children, while children are allowed to play around locks and boat without wearing them) or with the statistics or with the willingness of workers to wear them voluntarily or with ... Etc etc.

I think my main beef is about the compulsion, about my detestation of the nanny state, but that's only the start. Health & safety, once an honourable occupation, is turning into a shameful one, nowadays consciously chosen by the sort of person who would in old East Germany have proudly worked in the Stasi.

This is not to say I'm against safety measures. For example, I always wear a lifejacket on tidal or fast flowing rivers, and I'm punctilious about ensuring my swimming strength is up to scratch. How many

And I'm a great fan of greater safety awareness, technically called 'behavioural safety'. I've learned NEVER to walk backwards while boating, and so on.

As BW lockkeeper Trevor Skoyles puts it in his excellent book 'Ouch!' - "A safe head is better than a safe hat." (

(via my mobile)

Doug Bostrom

Andrew, I love your blog, your sense of humor, your photography. I read Grannybuttons from 8 hours' distance because I enjoy narrowboating and here in Seattle while we have lots of salt water, big lakes, beautiful rivers, we regrettably lack a canal system. I have to travel to England when I can't control the urge to spin gate windlasses but other times I look to your blog to stay in touch with the NB world.

Now I've flattered you, I have to say your continued picking on lifejackets and those who wear them is not a Good Thing.

It's hard to say from the photographs, but possibly there is still water in the scene, into which workmen might fall? For instance, the hole in the floor of the lock, presumably leading to a dreaded "confined space", bane of first responders?

Looking at the bigger picture out-of-frame, falls into water are often accompanied by disabling injuries, including blows to the head leading to unconsciousness. As we know, an unconscious person can drown or be lost in murk in waters they might walk away from if they were awake. Lifejackets thus are in part for the purpose of making the work of rescuers easier and more likely to succeed, not exclusively performing the function of waterwings for pansies.

The U.K.'s own excellent MAIB report collection is rife with sad variants on the story of "fell overboard, struck head, vanished". Sometimes these guys are not actually even falling overboard, they're going into a ballast tank or the like.

BW and other big organizations run in part on statistics. Lifejackets improve their odds of success when we include "we don't let our workers die unnecessarily" is included in the definition of success.

It's hard to get folks to wear lifejackets. Partly it's a machismo thing: "I can swim, I don't need to wear this silly looking garment, it makes look like a wuss." I presume really macho guys can swim while unconscious. Sadly there are few available to hire so we're left with the dregs, those sometimes needing help staying afloat while disabled and consequently girlishly awaiting rescue.

Mocking as cross-dressers those who by choice or regulation wear life-jackets is not helpful, really. It's poor message to convey.

I realize you're having a spot of verbal fun here, but cutting remarks about lifejackets are sort of thematic in your posts for those of us who read your blog regularly.

Cheers and Thank You for the Grannybuttons blog!


And the new top gates on the narrow Bourton (and I assume Hardwick but I didn't look) lock on the Oxford were made at Stanley Ferry.

Paul Savage NB Adreva

Check out for a virtual tour of Bradley cut

Max Sinclai

The broad gates for the Droitwich Barge Canal have been made at Bradley and look superb. See the latest Wych Magazine.

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