Have mercy on me, a Health & Safety sinner

I was made to feel like an irresponsible criminal yesterday. My crime? I wanted to carry 3 lengths of stainless steel home on my bike for my latest bike trailer project. It was around 10kg worth of material in 3m long lengths that I planned to strap to the top bar of my bike, a method I have safely used dozens of times before. I paid for the steel, then the conversation with the salesman at Steel & Tube Bromley went something like this…

(Salesman) Sir, do you think you could come back tomorrow and collect your steel.

Umm , no actually I want to collect it now, is there a problem?

Well it’s against our health and safety policy to allow you to leave our premises with an unsafe load.

What’s unsafe about carrying a little bit of steel on my bike? I’ve done it dozens of times with small loads like this and have safely carried up to 80 kg of steel on my bike trailer. If I did want to waste my valuable time and come back tomorrow, I would want to carry it in exactly the same manner as I plan to today.

Well you might fall off your bike and sue us because we allowed you to leave with an unsecured load.

Well I could sign a waiver promising that I won’t hold you responsible in the very unlikely event that I fall off my bike.

It doesn’t work like that, we could be held responsible for you having an accident with our steel on your bike.

So how many cases have there been of something like this actually happening?

Umm err well actually there’s none that I am aware of, but its still against the law for us to allow you to leave with that steel on your bike.

Sorry what law is that?

The one that says it has to be secure.

But it will be very secure, I have 10 straps here to secure it with.

I’m sure it’s still against the law.

What law is that again?

I don’t know the actual law, but I’m sure it is against some law.

Well I’ve been carrying loads on bikes for decades and have read all the laws about carrying loads on bikes and it says I’m allowed a load that extends one metre past each wheel (see here). This load is 750mm under that limit. I am very confident I am breaking no law.

Umm maybe I should talk to my manager about this.

(manager emerges 5 min later and conversation is repeated almost word for word).

(me summarising) So in summary, my load is secure so it does NOT contravene your health and safety policy in any way, I am not breaking any laws, there has never been any incident of a cyclist having an accident carrying steel on a bike, let alone suing the company who sold them the steel, but you still won’t hand over my steel.

(manager) correct.

So you are happy for people to drive big trucks & cars out of here with very small loads, creating vast amounts of unnecessary pollution, contributing to climate change which will almost certainly cause the death of millions of people worldwide, and kill people on the roads here in Christchurch, yet you are not happy for me to avert this almost certain danger by biking with this small load when there are no real dangers you can point to.


What if I walked with my steel?

Umm … errr…  I suppose that would be ok.

Ok then, I will walk off your premises safely and healthily, then your responsibility to keep me safe will be fulfilled.

Umm ok then.

Eventually the steel gets handed over, I walk off the premises to the road (note I did not tell a lie) then bike the 6km home, being extra cautious because it would have been really embarrassing if I had coincidentally been taken out by a car door or similar at that a point.

My load at home (minus some of the straps)

So … what do you think? Am I being an irresponsible nutter carrying loads on my bike? Or has health and safety bureaucracy gone crazy? What can we do to get some common sense and perspective in the increasingly burdensome world of health and safety policies?


15 thoughts on “Have mercy on me, a Health & Safety sinner”

  1. Great work Steven – how annoying. I’m perplexed that they thought you could sue them if there was an accident – thought we got rid of suing with ACC. I’m guessing that that was incorrect on their part. Obviously they do have a H&S responsibility to make sure loads are secured properly before leaving their premises – which yours would have been. So pleased you persisted and have posted re this. This info may be helpful for those of us who might find themselves in the same position. Thanks!

  2. How was your load secured whilst you walked off the premises. Did you strap it to your back?

  3. Reminds me of a conversation I had at the hospital when I broke a tiny bone in my hand and had to get a plaster to immobilise my wrist.

    You can’t drive – your insurance company will not insure you if you do.

    OK Fine I will just get around on my bike

    You can’t!

    Why not.

    I don’t know – you just can’t – you’ve broken your arm

    Well, I’ve broken a wee bone in my hand and I biked here without a plaster on with a broken hand so I’m pretty sure I can bike

    but you are not allowed to drive

    Only because insurance companies say so. They only mention cars on this piece of paper so it seems to me that the world in general would rather I rode my bike.

    but it is not safe

    Not safe how? …. and on and on. Needless to say I rode my bike everywhere for the next three weeks and left the car in the garage. In fact it was probably all very good for me and got the blood pumping and healing up the injury (and no, the injury came from a fall when I was walking on a steep hillside – NOT when I was riding my bike around town!)

    1. Your actions seems fair enough to me,I commend you for A. trying to let the store see reason, and B. for coming up with a solution!! I see this quote from the LTSA page "If you carry a load it must be secure, mustn’t touch the ground and mustn’t extend more than one metre in front of or behind the wheels, or half a metre (50cm) on either side (from the centre of the cycle)."

      I would just consider tying a bright flag to the end so other road users can see it, same as used on loads overhanging trailers. 🙂

  4. Having worked at S&T I can confirm they are pedantic about health and safety because there has been at least one fatal accident of a visiting truck driver which cost them dearly. There is a company policy in regard to perceived unsafe loading because some people have crazy and truely unsafe ideas about what they want to carry and how. Unfortunately, at first glance, carrying lengths of steel home on your bike seems crazy and unsafe because its unheard of.

    The end result that day actually shows they dont care so much about your health and saftey, as they care about not being prosecuted by you, the Labour Department, The Police or perhaps someones insurance company, for letting you ride out of their yard with steel tied to your bike, to discover you were involved in an accident of some kind, in wich they might be implicated.

  5. The interesting thing that the salesman is obviously unaware of, is that on the road, the worksafe legislation does not apply. A Bicycle has never been deemed as a work place where as the inside of a truck has been. however for activity on the road, nothing to do with worksafe. On the road, the jurisdiction falls under NZTA, police and serious crash unit. If bullshit were tar, he would have been a motorway

  6. A couple of weeks ago riding along a shared path in Hagley Park I passed a guy who gave the appearance of being a rebuild worker from a far off land . On his carrier was a brand new bike, still in it’s box, a very big box. He was managing, but only just. Welcome to the new Christchurch I thought, a Christchurch I am really starting to enjoy. Great post Steve…

  7. They obviously haven’t seen what gets carried on bicycles in some other countries!
    Just a flag or something on both ends would be excellent to indicate the extremities of the object(s).

    1. …so carry the load vertically. No front or back protrusions, and the max height on a vehicle is about 4.5 metres excepting certain low bridges. 14 feet if you’re old enough.

      Though bike handling could have become all sorts of fun!

  8. That was smart thinking to walk away with it. But I would be happier if you had a piece of bright cloth tied at each end as a flag to warn other cyclists and road users how long you are – as a courtesy. If I met you on a cycle path, I would be glad of that. Cheers

    1. Well said Ewan: All good, but a flag would have been a very nice and completely considerate addition.

      Others have added salient points: loads on roads firstly come under the purview of NZTA, not WorkSafe ("not necessarily, its our motto" R TM) or Health and Safety at Work/In Employment legislation; ACC legislation eliminates the ability to sue anyone in an "accidental" situation, and more besides.

      All this comes as rather rich when Steel & Tube have been reported to selling suspect product of late.

  9. The only problem I would have with your load in the US is that there is no flag at the back. I think if your load sticks out more than 3 ft, 1 meter, you need some kind of flag. Most building supply companies have cheap or no cost ones to hang. Other than that I think you are good to go.

  10. Are we talking about Steel and Tube on Blenheim Road? I have done this several times. I never ask, just say I am walking exactly like you ended up doing. Once over the road I get back on the bike. 6m tubes no problem, but they are friggin heavy. It is such a common problem that I do it by habit everywhere (hardware stores, timber yards, salvage yards etc.) Has only failed me once and that was in Australia.

    There are a few yards around Christchurch that are proven to be amused and sympathetic to bike trailer users, but I don’t want to name them here, lest it result in trouble for them.

  11. This story reminds me of the start of the “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” where Arthur Dent’s house is about to get bulldozed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *