‘I don’t know the actual law, but I’m sure it is against some law’. Steven Muir writes about being made to feel like a criminal without being given much supporting evidence:
My crime? I wanted to carry three lengths of stainless steel home on my bike for my latest trailer project.
It was around 10 kg of material in 3 m lengths that I planned to strap to the top tube of my bike, a method I’ve safely used 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? Steven: Umm, no actually I want to collect it now. Is there a problem?
Salesman; Well, it’s against our Health and Safety Policy to allow you to leave our premises with an unsafe load.
Steven: 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 time and come back tomorrow, I’d carry it in exactly the same manner as I plan to today.
Salesman: You might fall off your bike and sue us because we allowed you to leave with an unsecured load.
Steven: I could sign a waiver promising that I won’t hold you responsible in that very unlikely event.
Salesman: It doesn’t work like that. We could be held responsible for you having an accident with our steel on your bike.
Steven: So how many cases have there been of something like this actually happening?
Salesman: Umm, err, well actually there’s none that I am aware of, but it’s still against the law for us to allow you to leave with that steel on your bike.
Steven: Sorry, what law is that?
Salesman; The one that says it has to be secure.
Steven: But it will be very secure. I have ten straps here to secure it with!
Salesman: I’m sure it’s still against the law.
Steven: What law is that again?
Salesman: I don’t know the actual law, but I’m sure it is against some law.
Steven: I’ve been carrying loads on bikes for decades. I’ve read the law about carrying loads on bikes. It says any load must be secure, mustn’t touch the ground and mustn’t extend more than one metre in front of or behind each wheel. This load is 750mm under that limit. I’m confident that I am breaking no law.
Salesman: Umm - maybe I should talk to my manager about this.
The manager emerged five minutes later. The conversation was repeated almost word for word.
Steven (summarising): My load is secure, so it does not contravene your Health and Safety Policy in any way. I am breaking no law, and there’s never been a case of a cyclist carrying steel on a bike having an accident—let alone suing the company who sold it to them. But you still won’t hand over my steel!
Here’s Steven merrily crossing the Old Ghost Road with one of his self-made bike trailers.
Steven; So you are happy for people to drive big trucks and cars out of here with very small loads, creating unnecessary pollution and 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 with no real danger you can identify.
Steven: What if I walked with my steel?
Manager: Umm … errr… I suppose that would be OK.
Steven: OK then, I shall walk off your premises safely and healthily so that your responsibility to keep me safe is fulfilled.
Manager: Umm, OK then.
Eventually the steel was handed over, I walked off the premises to the road (note I did not tell a lie!) then biked the six kilometres home—cautiously, because it would have been really embarrassing if I’d been taken out by a car door.
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 common sense and perspective into the increasingly burdensome world of health and safety?