The phrase "health and safety gone mad" is often overused. But have a listen to this, which I recorded yesterday at Bow Road station, and see what you think. It plays every 15 minutes.
In case you can't hear, or the speech is somewhat indistinct, here's a transcription.
Welcome to Bow Road Station. In order to stay safe...
• please don't lose concentration when moving around the station
• please take care when using the stairs, and
• please never fail to use the handrail
I fear "gone mad" may be an appropriate description.
Welcome to Bow Road, says the voice, before warning that simply being at this station might actually be dangerous.
Please don't lose concentration when moving around the station is a new one on me. I assume it's aimed at the zombies who walk around with their heads in their phones, except they've probably got their headphones in so will never hear the warning. It could equally refer to people distracted by talking to one another, parents with small children or anyone daydreaming about being somewhere nicer than a tube station. Please don't lose concentration... is also a woefully unspecific request, which could apply to almost any situation where risk is present. Please don't lose concentration when carrying out open heart surgery. Please don't lose concentration when crossing the road. Please don't lose concentration when slicing a carrot. Please don't lose concentration when ironing a shirt. Indeed Please don't lose concentration could be played on endless loop on every public address system in the world everywhere forever, and is so wilfully generic as to be of almost no use.
Please take care when using the stairs is more usual, or at least it is these days. A badly-tackled set of stairs can bruise you, or cause serious injury, or even end your personal mobility for good. TfL know that if they can reduce incidents on stairs they could significantly improve the tube's accident statistics, which is why this message now plays out so often. Equally, the folk who normally run down, or tackle them three steps at a time, probably aren't listening and never will be.
Please never fail to use the handrail is very odd wording. Everywhere else across the network it's "hold the handrail", whereas the announcement at Bow Road uses a negative, as did that first announcement Please don't lose concentration. Don'ts and Nevers certainly make these messages much harder to take in. I also think that Never fail to use the handrail is ridiculously strong, suggesting that walking up or down stairs unaided is always wrong. We're not all staircase angels, nor need we aspire to be. What's more, here at Bow Road it can't be done. If TfL are so keen on us always holding on, perhaps they should add a handrail at the entrance to the station, where the two steps up from street level must have been potential deathtraps since 1902.
What next? A poster urging you to Hold your luggage? Why yes, here's one.
This lunacy has appeared at Bank, on the spiral staircase down from the Central line, on a wall which has been liberally scattered with a wide selection of trip hazard stickers. What alternative is there to holding your luggage? Unless you drop it for a laugh, it's not going to reach the bottom by itself.
It seems someone at Bank/Monument has got themselves a poster-making kit, because there's been an outbreak of laminated yellow screeds around the station of late. Here's another one.
This one appears just before the escalator down to the Northern line from Monument, and warns Be Prepared, You Are Approaching An Escalator. Most of the time this should be damned obvious, but it is just possible that at extremely busy times someone might not notice. What's futile is that the poster doesn't advise how to travel on the escalator, merely notes that you should adjust your mindset appropriately. It's also been stuck over the top of a Hold the Handrail poster, as if that were somehow less important. What the hell is going on here, and who on earth gave the go ahead?
It seems a tipping point has been reached, not just on the tube but on the buses, as TfL scatter health and safety messages willy nilly where they've never been needed before. Please hold on, the bus is about to move is the most infamous, but is merely the latest manifestation of a patronising mentality being rolled out across the capital. The Mayor has given TfL tough targets to reduce accidents on public transport, and their most prominent response has been to tell us all how to behave in situations they'd never have bothered us with previously.
This is why they're now insistent that we hold on every time a bus is about to move, this is why handrail-holding has attained mythical levels of importance, and this is why some disembodied voice at Bow Road now wants everyone to maintain their concentration. A risk-based management culture will always demand that more and more warnings are given, because not to do so would be suboptimal for meeting customer safety targets. But the latest outbreak of ludicrous messages has surely crossed a line, as TfL deliberately pollute our commutes by repeating the bleeding obvious.
On a sliding scale of preposterousness, where will it end?
0) Mind the gap 1) Stand clear of the doors 2) Surfaces may be slippery 3) Never fail to hold the handrail 4) Always carry a bottle of water with you 5) Please hold on, the bus is about to move 6) Don't lose concentration when moving around the station ← We are here 7) Please don hi-vis clothing and a helmet before starting your journey 8) Always use gloves when holding the handrail in case you catch something contagious 9) If you think you might be having a heart attack, please leave the station as it looks bad in our statistics 10) Don't forget to breathe