Well, work think I am, anyway. I spent the last two days doing a ‘Competent Persons Fire Course.’ It’s nice to think I’m competent, but I’m not sure it was worthwhile…
The first day of the course was the fun one, playing with fire extinguishers, that sort of thing. The Triangle Of Fire, all stuff you already know (or should do) and the basic responsibilities of what used to be called a Fire Marshal. Somehow Fire Marshal sounded better than Competent Person, but there you go. Probably something to do with the
USSR EU. Perhaps ‘Marshal’ sounds too masculine, offends FemiNazis or something. Who knows? I could probably find out, but I can’t really be bothered. Anyway, the basic responsibilities of the Competent Person are… can you guess? Passing the buck.
“That’s what all elven safety is about, isn’t it?” Remarked the instructor, “Passing the buck. All you have to do is inform your General Manager of problems, then you’re covered. Fill in the forms and that’s it.” I suppose I had thought that I would be responsible, in the event of a fire, for making sure the place was evacuated, headcount and so on, but no. I’m just there to inform someone of missing extinguishers, and iif nothing is done, well… just re-inform the the next week. Nobody is going to look at the records, unless there IS ACTUALLY A FIRE (it’s not currently part of audit) by which time it will be too late. Oh well, like most things in life, I find what I would consider best practice to be far away from what the rest of humanity seems to.
The second day was the “Hard Day.” We had to complete a Fire Risk Assessment for the place we were at, with a view to completing one at our own workplaces. So off we trundled, two hours finding out of date fire extinguishers, blocked or unmarked exits, rubbish under stairwells… there was quite a lot actually, the manager of the place wants shooting. For nearly every box we managed to find something that wasn’t right. Then we went upstairs confident in our danger-finding abilities, only to have him shoot us down at nearly every criterion. I had thought that the point of the excercise was to highlight everything that was wrong (there is clearly a culture of disregarding fire safety at that place) so that it could be improved, and re-assess after a period of time. Noooo…. I’m just naive. Apparantly the whole point is (and I quote) to “get a nice, clean risk assessment.”
Now, I’m no big fan of Elven Safety (shoot the buggers), in fact, in my ideal world, there would be no HSE and matters of safety would be negotiated between (non-political) unions and the owners/managers, for everyone’s benefit. Dangerous workplaces are bad for everybody concerned (bad publicity etc. as well as wellbeing of employees) but one-size-fits-all government-issued policies are simply too cumbersome. I’m not allowed, for example, to use a stanley knife, I’m supposed to use a ‘safety knife’ which is so awkward that, in my estimation it is actually more dangerous to use! I don’t see why I cannot decide for myself if I am safe to use a knife, and take the risk myself, if you see what I mean.
But I digress. What’s the point of having these rules, forms to fill in, and boxes to tick, if the whole point is not to make everyone safer but simply an end in themselves? Fire isn’t a knife. The worst I could do with an knife (accidentally) is gash myself open. Conceivably I could bleed to death, but that’s about it. The worst a fire could do is kill about a hundred people and cost several million, just in damage to the building and contents, before any lawsuits. The company I work for have a very large, open-plan building chock-full of highly flammable items, a fire could work through the place in a matter of minutes (literally) and any blocked fire escape or escape route IS going to cost someone their life, as well as being hugely bad for business, so even in a HSE-free world we would have quite an exhaustive fire policy. So why fake it?
It seems the KPI box-ticking target culture is more pervasive than even I realised.