Health and Safety: Fear in the Mundane

A guest post by Stephen Lee Naish


I have worked for over fifteen years in a retail/customer service environment. For the most part I enjoy it. I first worked with cameras and editing equipment, which began a continuing passion with films and filmmaking. I then moved into clothes retail; as I wore, and still do wear clothes, it seemed a good option. Finally, I jumped to book retail, where I remain. My only failure in retail customer assistance was bar work, where my good service nature was lost to the increasingly inebriated patrons. Though it affects all job forms, one aspect of retail, is the dreaded Health and Safety requirements that all staff must adhere to. Being responsible for a public within the confines of your walls means that it is necessary to partake in acts of heroism to ensure their safely as well as your own. Over the course of fifteen years I have sat through many outdated Health and Safety videos, read through countless poorly photocopied booklets, and listened to colleagues drone on about the correct way to lift a box (bend at the knee. keep the back straight). Recently I watched a short tutorial on the fascinating subject of fire extinguishers. The tutorial leader was efficiently taking his students through the motions of fire fighting. He then discussed the benefits of obtaining certified extinguishers from certified retailers. He then made an off the cuff remark regarding forged extinguishers: “China is doing it to us again” he said “They’re making extinguishers that look just like this one”. An odd remark that could have easily have been edited out, as surely there will be workers of Chinese origin watching these videos. Also the tutor did not take into account all the legitimate products and services China provides at very little cost. This remark got me thinking about the subject of Health and Safety and how one careless comment within a short video sets up an entire culture of apprehension.                                                                                                                            Health and Safety within the workplace is serious, that is a fact. It has no doubt saved many lives, as well as maintaining the wellbeing of millions of people the world over. It is comforting to know our employers are looking out for our physical wellbeing. However, Health and Safety could be viewed as an example of a state sponsored conformity, a method of coercion and prejudice at the most basic level. If one is made aware, and therefore cautious of the dangers of trip hazards, step ladders, slippery floors, overstocked shelves, heavy boxes, faulty wiring, loose carpeting, and sharp objects, then we begin at a level of paranoia in our own surroundings that can only escalate. If we start to see everyday objects, and scenarios as screen doors to our own undoing, then could that start a train a thought towards seeing external threats in society? An environment of absolute order, consistency and reassurance within the workplace, could lead one to crave order, consistency, and reassurance within the rest of the world, but on a level that is resolute. The fear of injuring your back by lifting a box, becomes a fear of immigration. The knowledge that a pair of scissors could cut you if held incorrectly, turns to a fear of a terrorist attack. The loose carpeting in your office, becomes the looming fatality of a nuclear blast. We are actively searching for death trips in any circumstance. Politicians tell us of the dangers of the situations of war, terror, and disease on a daily basis. These are the mass killers, the things we personally can do little about, so we place our faith in leadership. We are hooked to a constant drip-feed of fear-mongering in order to secure our adherence to an ordered society. But, this all starts with the proposed trepidation of our everyday life and environs. We have entered into a well ordered and unwavering contract in which the most mundane object or situation is a potential threat to our Health and Safety.             

 Stephen Lee Naish is author of U.ESS.AY: Politics and Humanity in American Film (Zer0 Books, 2014)

Art by Sky Nash (@skynash) see more of her work here:


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