Friday, 25 June 2010

It's health and safety ignored

On 15 June, Richard Littlejohn covered two of his favourite subjects in one dreadful article - wheelie bins and health and safety.

A week before, the Health and Safety Executive and the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) forum had issued some guidance:

about preventing serious injury to people, including children, who may enter, play in or take shelter in commercial waste bins or communal domestic bins - typically four-wheeled bins of 660 litres plus capacity.

There have been many cases where people in bins have been injured and, in several cases, killed when they have been tipped into waste collection and compaction vehicles; sometimes they are only discovered at the waste transfer station.

Littlejohn, of course, thinks anything like this is ridiculous nonsense. If a drunk staggers into a commercial wheelie bin and is then crushed to death when the waste is collected - tough:

Elf 'n'safety exists in a parallel universe, a utopian fantasy island where nothing bad must be allowed to happen, even accidentally.

'Where nothing bad must be allowed to happen' or where the chances of needless deaths or injuries in preventable accidents is minimised?

But what he deliberately does for his weird little fantasy telling of this story is pretend that the bins in question are not commercial containers, but household wheelie bins:

In the context of an overall population of 60 million and rising, how many people are actually living in wheelie bins? Tell-tale signs include a washing line, a satellite dish and a rottweiler on a string tethered to the handle.

Hilarious, huh? And he exaggerates some more:

Dustmen clearly can't be expected to poke around in the contents of every bin on the off-chance that they might find a drunk taking a nap.

But that's exactly what they are going to have to do in future.

He can't really think that dustmen will 'have to' do that in future.

And, of course, they don't. The Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive, Geoffrey Podger, decided to challenge Littlejohn's take on the story:

I am disappointed that Mr Littlejohn misrepresents the scope of the guidance that has been issued to help reduce the likelihood of people being crushed horrifically after seeking shelter in bins.

The guidance was drawn up in direct response to requests from the waste management and recycling industry following three deaths in the last year alone. It is not new law as your article suggests, but simply a guide to help businesses comply with current law.

The guidance clearly applies to commercial waste bins and communal domestic bins only - not household wheelie bins. We do not expect refuse collectors "to poke around in the contents of every bin on the off-chance that they might find a drunk taking a nap". This would be neither proportionate nor sensible.

The guidance also outlines simple measures those who produce waste, such as shops and restaurants, can implement to discourage people from entering bins in the first place.

HSE fully appreciates that vulnerable people will not be reading Materials Recycling Week and that is why we are also working to make homeless charities and organisations aware of the issue so they can help warn the people they work with.

So that's that then? Well, no, not quite.

Because today, Littlejohn returns to the topic. And it's like the HSE letter never happened:

A couple of weeks ago I wondered who would want to live in a wheelie bin, following the issuing of new elf’n’safety guidelines to dustmen.

They now have to check before emptying that there’s no one lurking inside, after three people were crushed to death.

So that's another health and safety myth created. And no doubt he will repeat it in future columns, and in his next book, so other people start believing it too.


  1. LittleJohn is an odious, obnoxious, vicious lying little toad, agreed. But people who sleep inside council wheelie bins are idiots. Is it a secret that they get tipped into lorries every day, usually first thing in the morning? Where I live, even though the bins have big 'Danger' stickers on them and specially designed tops that make getting into them as difficult as possible, idiots have used (and died in) them and other idiots have suggested that more should be done to stop this happening. It's not as if these deaths don't have a serious effect on the lorry drivers and binmen involved. Their rather thankless task is to take away anything and everything that people can fit into or near a bin, and being responsible for those who have decided to gamble with their lives should not also be part of the job description in my view.

  2. Fat Dick Littlejohn may be remembering the closing credits of the 1960s Hanna-Barbera "Top Cat" series (where the main character sleeps in a dustbin, complete with TV aerial).

    But, sad to say, "Top Cat" was fictional, and a cartoon. Which is where Littlejohn seems to be heading.

  3. A very interesting thing's been happening with the Heil's approach to "elf 'n' safety" recently. They ran a story about a woman who "tore her throat" after blowing too hard on a vuvuzela. The article implied they should be banned because they're loud enough to cause deafness, and dangerous enough to tear this woman's throat, and the reader comments vociferously agreed that they should be banned (the hypocrisy is staggering even by the Heil's low standards).

    In other words, elf 'n' safety's ok if it means Mail readers don't have to listen to the parping of vuvuzelas when watching a football match (how uncouth those horrid plastic horns are...) but it's ridiculous if legislation's brought in to prevent more unfortunate and tragic deaths of people who are so down on their luck that they have to seek refuge in refuse, so to speak. This contradiction could certainly help throw some light on the Mail's ideological agenda... Maybe even something to think about as a topic for the next post in this blog?

  4. In his original article Littlejohn said that the death of Scot Williams, who was crushed to death in just such a bin-based incident "could be chalked up to death by misadventure". The fact that the coroner chalked it up to accidental death is neither here nor there.

  5. Popbitch had a wonderful picture of Mr Littlejohn, circa 1981

    you couldn't make it up.


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