Health and Safety: Wobbly Skip Conundrum



Intro and Context – a bit on Health and Safety

I felt I ought to record this, just for posterity and get it off my chest. Yep. I am going to write about health and safety. Yawn!


Note: I ummed-and-ahhed about scrubbing the following few paragraphs, worried that they might come across deceitful to my current employer. I decided to leave the paragraphs there as-is, on the grounds that, as dull as they are, the methods my (and probably most other’s) employers are using to push H&S do actually ‘work’. Indeed, I believe the main message of this post is evidence of this

Note to self: I swore that in this blog I’d refrain from voicing my very often stupid opinion, and the content of following two paragraphs (indeed most of this post) is my opinion.


They keep pushing health and safety down your neck at work. It does become tiresome. It pinnacles in my office when “health and safety” is reported in the monthly office meetings. A feature in these reports is the “Wheel of Awesomeness”, where the names of people who have made H&S recommendations are put into a pot and a crappy Wheel of Fortune website is used to draw them a prize. The whole process is cringeworthy:

  • The lack of contenders to the crappy website which, no doubt, is banked as a good reflection digital thinking and paperless, or cardboard-wheel-of-fortune-less, offices.
  • The prizes: one is coffee and cake with the boss. To paraphrase Bill Bryson – I would prefer to have my spleen removed in the woods with a twig. Nah. Just kidding, it wouldn’t be so bad! It’s just the idea of it. I had assumed this was the booby-prize, but an ex-employee pointed it out to me that it may not be, in some people’s eyes.

I could go on, for instance, our being told we were not reporting enough “near misses”. Eh?

My point is, for all it mindless banality, it does keep health and safety in your thoughts and I think this is genuinely important, particularly in my industry. Neurons fire automatically in your brain when you see something that looks unsafe, and you do something about it. I am not sure the health and safety people realize that they are activating the myelination process specifically to get their message across, and I do truly hope they do not feel I need to be exposed to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of training.

The Skip Story

The offending skip. To be honest, it does not look as bad in the photo as I thought it was. Note the cones – that is like putting cones around a crocodile.

So. Back to the story at hand.

I was on my way home and I saw this skip outside what was The Crew Club on the Viaduct, Auckland. The premises is being refurbished/ reborn. Of the skip, I thought, “That looks a little odd” but carried on – it was raining. But then I thought about it, as the neurons fired and I, spun on my heels and had another look. It was a pretty big skip sitting in front of the bar/site. It was perched on the edge of the old bar-deck on a couple of timber spreaders. It looked unsteady.

Again, it was raining and I toyed with the idea of just letting it be, but as I looked at it I concluded (maybe a little too safety consciously, I don’t know) that there was a risk the skip could come over on someone, or their foot. It was on the public footpath in one of the busier bits of the city.

I resolved to wander around the viaduct to see if I could find someone to do something about it- I have seen their security guys plodding around in the past. Or maybe find someone to help me rectify it (Is that okay if I fix it – I don’t know. What if I made it worse?).

The place I went to get help. Facade looks pretty nice.

I went to another place a little way along that is being done up/ rehashed. Looks pretty interesting actually facade-wise. The workmen there were packing up. Now, I KNOW that the building site across the way (~30m away) has nothing to ‘do’ with them, but I figured: they are builders, they’ll have a view on whether its safe or I’m being a twat, and they should have the know-how and means/tools to temporarily make it safer. So I explained to them my concern.

One guy said, “Er. It’s nothing to do with us”. Yes. I know that. You don’t get a medal, my friend.

The other guy pretty much repeated what the first guy said. Okay, I get it. It’s probably nothing – I wish I hadn’t ‘seen it’ and now I have dragged you two into it too.

I said, ” Errrr? Right. Erm, I’ll go and have a look at their safety board – see if there’s a number to phone.”

The second guy then held my elbow and said, “Yeah yeah. Good idea. I’ll come and have a look in a minute.”. Maybe he is a medal contender?

So off I plodded back to the skip.

I looked at the safety board. Some guy called Gabriel. Great. “Shall I phone him?”, I thought. “He’s probably comfortable at home”. Well. I phoned – his name is on the board as a contact after all. He started talking about cones and permits blah blah blah. Boring. I said something to the effect of I am a structural engineer. I think it looks a bit dangerous. The cones aren’t going to stop it falling on someone. Someone could get hurt or die”. Gabriel said “No no, it’s okay. It okay.” And then hung up. I don’t think he was being a nob, he just ought not be that company’s site safety board contact.

At that point, I figured I had done all I could, uncomfortable with the idea of trying to rectify it myself, and off I went.  Mr “I’ll-come-take-a-look” had …not come over. Maybe he forgot. Right?

It was still nagging me though (I suppose this is also the myelination). What if some kid went and played on it? What if the stuff first put into it the morning was the straw that broke the camel’s back and over it came onto the guy or his foot???

I called the Viaduct Management 24 hour line. I explained the situation. He didn’t seem to pay a great deal of attention first time round until I mentioned I was a structural engineer and repeated my concern. The conversation closed with him saying, “Okay. I’ll go take a look.”

The End of The Story

Got I a text from Viaduct Management (very) shortly after my call – they have put some blocks under the free corner to shore up (sure up?) the skip. Good for them.

I walked past in the morning (it’s on my way anyway). They’d done something reasonably stable & robust with a pile of timber. Not ideal – I would argue they ought to have a proper platform. But goodish response for Gabriel and his friends, I suppose.

The Skip in the morning. Better, I guess, but not ideal.

And as I continued on my way guess who I walk past? Mr “I’ll-touch-your-elbow-and-tell-you-it’ll-be-fine”. I cheerfully remarked, “They fixed the skip”, and he replied, “I great, how did it go?”. Nil Points for you, my friend. And no lollipop, either.