Ah, a crisp autumnal morn. What better way to start the day than a trip to your favourite baker for a loaf of your choice bread? For Amy and me, poppy seed loaf from M&S. I arrived at the bakery section and browsed the breads but couldn’t find the poppy seed. At ten in the morning? Something was up. The baker was nowhere to be seen. Looking around I found a member of staff, let’s call her Brenda.
‘Excuse me, have you got any poppy seed bread?’
She poked her head over the baking counter and had a look for the baker.
‘Angie,’ she called to a colleague coming up the aisle towards us. ‘You haven’t seen the baker have you?’
‘Freezer’s broke,’ said Angie. ‘Won’t be fixed ‘til Thursday. There’s no-one there.’
At this point I noticed a shelf on the back wall of the bakery, brimming with loaves, all sliced, wrapped, labelled and ready to go.
‘Is there any poppy seed?’ said Brenda.
Angie gave the few loaves on the countertop a cursory glance.
‘Can’t see any,’ she said.
I was sensing from Angie at this point a distinct air of disinterest.
I pointed at the loaves on the shelf behind the counter.
‘There’s a whole load of bread on that shelf,’ I said.
Angie’s eyes rolled over to the loaves.
‘I’m not allowed to go over there,’ she said to Brenda. ‘It’s against health and safety.’
Now I’m no walking clinometer but on the flat gradient of the shop floor I’d estimate the distance between Angie and the bread was no more than 1.8 metres. Under three paces. A quick risk assessment of the path she would need to take revealed no hazards. I looked at Angie. She seemed to be me around mi-fifties. This means she was over ten years old, the approximate age at which any normal person can decide whether or not walking three paces poses a reasonable risk. Just to reiterate I had already conducted a rudimentary risk assessment and considered the walk to the shelf of bread safe. She was probably capable of doing the same.
I really wanted the bread and so I said, ‘Just to let you know, I’m a health and safety officer and you can go behind there, you just wouldn’t be able to prepare food unless you have a Food Hygiene Level 2 certificate.’ I knew this from my experience as a barista. She was confusing health and safety with food hygiene laws, a rookie mistake.
As soon as I said these words Angie went into the space behind the counter. Nothing had changed. The risk in the area hadn’t diminished. No laws had been altered. Just because I had said these words, Angie went straight in there and checked the bread, just like a normal adult person.
And I thought, are people just being lazy these days and hiding behind fears of health and safety? No health and safety inspector, or food inspector would ever not let someone check some packaged bread and it’s ridiculous to think they would. Are we hiding behind “health and safety” to get out of doing work? Probably, I concluded. Angie certainly was. It made me think, gosh, the world gets just that little bit more awful each day doesn’t it.
At that point Angie turned back to me from the shelf of bread and said, ‘No, we ain’t got no poppy seed.’
Our eyes met. We both knew she hadn’t really given the shelf much of a check at all. But there was nothing I could do other than collect up a loaf of disappointing tiger bread.