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The United Kingdom of Safety and High Visibility

by Oliver Klimek on May 10, 2011

I live in a country that has a reputation for being over-regulated. Germany is widely regarded as a paradise for bureaucrats, and rightly so. But there is one area where British legislators are putting their German colleagues to shame.

As soon as you set foot on British soil, be it in an airport, a harbour or a train station, you are confronted with an intimidating display of safety advices that cover a large portion of available space on walls, doors and other installations in public areas. Mind the gap, mind the step, you mustn’t do this, you have to do that. The creativity manifesting itself on British warning signs seems to know no limits.

The well-intended concern of UK authorities about the physical integrity of citizens and visitors alike seems to have turned almost into an obsession. “Passenger safety information is located throughout this train” – as if you couldn’t see for yourself that every second window bears a big bold sticker with a detailled plan of emergency exits, fire extinguishers and whatnots. And some safety briefings at the beginning of public events stay just short of the pre-takeoff life jacket pantomimes executed by air hostesses.

Speaking of life jackets… So far I have not yet mentioned the grandest of all safety-enhancing measures and the one which in fact you are most likely to encounter first upon entering the UK: the reflective vest.

Apart from its rather logical uses in being worn by the likes of road or railway workers, waste collectors or airport ramp personnel, it seems to have become quite fashionable to wear reflective vests in other, less obvious places. Passenger service agents in train stations tend to don them even though luggage trolleys with headlights will probably never be invented. They also seem to be quite popular with forklift drivers; and why the volunteers counting election ballots in a community hall put on those eye-stinging yellow or orange things simply escapes my comprehension.

Some uses for this “high visibility” gear can only be explained by cynism. Bus drivers wear them in stations during their cigarette breaks, but the elderly citizens waiting for them to finish clearly don’t. Could it be that protecting the tax-paying workforce is more important than looking after people who drain the NHS bugdget and pension funds?

On the other hand, visitors of production facilities sometimes are required to wear reflective vests. This surely is useful as for example it dramatically reduces the risk of being run over by a forklift during the quarter of an hour it takes them to study all safety warnings until they finally notice the “Forklifts Operating” sign. But for some strange reason, staff members operating on the same grounds don’t always wear vests. Explanation is easy: Some visitors come from foreign countries and inject fresh money into the British economy while employees only recycle the money already in circulation.

The primary objective for UK safety policy obviously is to make sure that even the most unlikely risks are taken into account while optimizing the nation’s economic balance. Thus I stronlgy propose the compulsory distribution of reflective vests to any foreigners entering the UK to be worn throughout their stay for a £5 deposit redeemable upon leaving the country or naturalization.

 

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