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.
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.
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?