A profusion of unnecessary notices

What a surprise - the kettle might be hot! © Ricky Yates

What a surprise – the kettle might be hot! © Ricky Yates

I am just back from attending our annual Eastern Archdeaconry Synod meeting. Unusually this year, instead of being hosted by one of the Chaplaincies in our Archdeaconry, it was held in St. Columba’s Retreat and Conference Centre in Woking, Surrey, England. And whilst the Conference Centre was an excellent venue, it did feature one aspect of British life that I find irritating and absurd – an increasing profusion of unnecessary notices.

This first photograph illustrates what is probably the best, or worst 🙁 , example of what I am talking about. Yes – there is a kettle or electric jug for boiling water, to allow guests to make themselves a hot drink, either first thing in the morning or late in the evening. As it is there to provide hot water, do we really need to be told that it just might be hot? Do the management of the centre really believe that every guest they have, is as thick as two short planks?

It's a door - what's the danger? © Ricky Yates

It’s a door – what’s the danger? © Ricky Yates

The second example is hardly any better. Yes – it is a door. But I open and shut many doors, virtually every day of my life, as I suspect all other guests do to. Why do we all need to be told to ‘take care’?

As the passage leads from the first to the ground floor, stairs might be necessary :-) © Ricky Yates

As the passage leads from the first to the ground floor, stairs might be necessary 🙂 © Ricky Yates

This third example might have a little more justification, were the stairs to begin immediately beyond the door. But they don’t! They begin at least three paces later. And bearing in mind that this door obviously leads to the way from the first to the ground floor, most people with a few grams of common sense, would realise that to do so, there would be stairs.

There is a reason for the proliferation of all these totally unnecessary notices. It is the growth of a culture that actively encourages each and every person to believe that there must be someone to blame for anything adverse that ever happens in your life. No longer is even the slightest misfortune, just ‘one of those things that happens’, let alone actually being your own mistake. No – somebody else, human or corporate, is to blame!

Parallel to the growth of this culture of blame, has arisen a whole group of lawyers who offer to sue on your behalf, anyone or anything that can be remotely held responsible for even the most minor accident or injury, on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis. It is a case of ‘chicken and egg’ as to which came first – the culture or the lawyers. But both are now firmly embedded in British society, as they have been for far longer, in the USA.

To cover the risk of being sued for negligence, insurance is available. But because of the rise of spurious claims for damages, such as being burnt by a kettle because the complainant did not realise it was hot, insurance premiums have risen rapidly, with the cost being passed on to the consumer – in my example, the person like me, staying in the conference centre. These totally unnecessary notices, are insurance companies trying to cover themselves against future spurious claims.

I would hope that a Retreat and Conference Centre, run by a Christian charitable organisation, would be immune from the possibility of being sued for negligence by guests, past, present or future. But clearly, the management and their insurers, think otherwise. Hence all these unnecessary, and frankly absurd, notices.

Whilst here in the Czech Republic, there could be greater attention paid to certain aspects of health and safety, overall I am very glad that there is the presumption that citizens will use their God-given common sense. That if there is a hole in the pavement, people will just walk around it – not sue the local authority for failing to put up a two metre high fence to prevent someone falling in! Long may the ‘blame culture’ of the UK and USA, with the associated proliferation of silly notices, stay clear of the Czech Republic.

PS   A post about the 2013 Eastern Archdeaconry Synod itself, will appear here in the next couple of days!


19 comments to A profusion of unnecessary notices

  • Mike in Bohemia

    Yes, it’s creeping Americanization. Making money from absolutely everything. And political correctness is a part of it too, everyone being afraid of having an opinion in case someone gets offended and sues. Just see how boring and scripted interviews on US TV are with their constant false compliments of anyone mentioned.
    The Czechs have the advantage of not having a common language with the USA so are not infected so easily.
    Having said all this, I am very fond of my American friends who are also victims of this nonsense.

    • Ricky

      I concur entirely Mike. It is a money making scam for which we all end up paying. It is also creeping Americanization & many of my American friends tell me that it is worse in their own country than in the UK. Long may the Czech people remain uninfected!

  • I’m not sure who or what you’re placing the blame on here, Ricky. The infantilising messages in the conference centre or the litigious culture that has sprung up in Britain. An Irish friend of mine once said that what she noticed when she first moved to London was the signs everywhere – where to go, what to do, what not to do. And, in a way, these signs are related to that British way of communicating with the public. Unfortunately, they seem so silly but are, probably, I don’t really know, necessary under Health and Safety legislation.

    For all our gripes about Health and Safety it certainly does protect employees and perhaps sometimes Anglican priests as well.

    I agree with Mike to some extent about this idea of an atmosphere of making money from everything. The emphasis on money as being the most important aspect of modern life, interestingly explored by Michael Sandel http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01fbj97 , is a fascinating subject.

    And one more thing, what’s with the silly borders on the signs? They make them even worse to my eyes.

    • Ricky

      I’m deliberately not trying to blame anyone David – quite the reverse. Rather, I’m making a personal observation of the ‘there must be someone to blame’ culture that lies behind these notices and appealing for people to be encouraged to instead use their God-given common sense & take some personal responsibility.

      Health & Safety legislation, which is designed to protect employees & the general public alike, is overall, a good thing. But the conference centre more than complied with such things as having smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and all the electrical wiring, such as that on the electric hot water jug, looked in excellent order. I do make the point at the end of the post, that here in the Czech Republic, ‘there could be greater attention paid to certain aspects of health and safety’. I’m particularly thinking of the lack of safety precautions when the exteriors of buildings are being repaired. There surely is a sensible middle way!

      Sadly, it is all about making money – the concept of ‘what’s in it for me’. This is epitomised by the TV adverts by lawyers. “Have you had an accident in the last three years? We’ll happily sue someone & make money for you”. What they don’t add is that they’ll also take their cut as well as covering the cost of the TV adverts!

      As for the borders – I’ll make no comment 🙂

  • Janet

    You missed a few! There was “BE AWARE OF STEPS” fixed to the summer house, and “PLEASE ASK A MEMBER OF STAFF TO ASSIST YOU IN OPENING THESE DOORS” on the perfectly normal doors going out to the inner garden, with keys dangling in the locks. It’s all about insurance – you have been warned, so now you can’t sue. But it made me think about all the other things they might have said…



    etc. And of course, all notices were phrased in positive language, not a single DO NOT to be seen.

    • Ricky

      I didn’t see the notice on the Summer House Janet, but I did see ‘PLEASE ASK A MEMBER OF STAFF TO ASSIST YOU IN OPENING THESE DOORS’, but didn’t have the camera to hand at the time. You’re right – it is all about insurance. But how sad, the thought that anyone would want to sue a very well maintained Conference & Retreat Centre run by a registered Christian charity.

      I do like your additional suggestions. The first one reminds me of a story that my wife has retold many times, about her own experience of working in the UK. There was a notice on the door where she worked for some weeks at the behest of an employment agency, which stated, ‘Warning! You are entering a hazardous area. Hot liquids and sharp tools may be around’. She was working in catering & it was on the door of a kitchen!!!!!

  • Wissy

    Hi Ricky.

    If only I’d known you were coming to Woking! I would have offered you a sleeping bag in the corner of my lounge with plenty of tea/coffee/wine, no stupid health and safety notices, all at very reasonable rates!

    • Ricky

      Hi Robin aka Wissy,

      I’d forgotten you lived so close by. I might take up your kind offer in the future, especially with the promise of wine 🙂

  • June

    This comment is from my sister June, despite my photo appearing alongside it 🙂 She couldn’t read the CAPTCHA to post the comment directly, so sent it to me by email.

    ‘I couldn’t agree with you more but I think you will find that these notices are a legal requirement. I often wonder what our father would have made of modern Health & Safety laws.

    As regards doors, at school we had fire doors in the corridors, mainly glass in a wooden surround so that one could see anyone coming the other way. We were always told to push the wood not the glass. One day for some reason the glass was removed in one pair and as our our class was waiting for our English Mistress who was also deputy head, we heard a loud crash. She had fallen through the glass less doors!!!’

    • Ricky

      Thank you June, & I’m sorry I’ve had to impersonate you, in order to publish your comment!

      I too, have often wondered what our father would make of current Health & Safety legislation. For those who don’t know, he was Chief Safety Officer for Coventry City Council until his death in 1970. He was responsible for seeing that the provisions of various Factory Acts were followed. The first Health & Safety at Work Act, which replaced those Factory Acts, did not come into force until 1974.

      I enjoyed your story in the second paragraph. However, you are showing your age by referring to your English Mistress 🙂

  • June

    Not just my age but the sort of school I went to. June

  • I totally agree about the ridiculous profusion of notices, Ricky, but as you say, in our increasingly litigious society, with the proliferation of no-win-no-fee ambulance-chasing lawyers, organisations just have to try to protect themselves. Some people will sue anybody, as witness the harassed parish priest I knew in North Wales 10 years ago, before coming to work with you, whose church was being sued by someone who had tripped on the totally visible raised pew platform and hurt her leg. We’re becoming totally unwilling to take responsibility for ourselves. 🙁

    • Ricky

      Thank you Perpetua. It is this attitude of being totally unwilling to accept responsibility for your own actions that I find most difficult. I was very grateful that the lady who attending St. Clement’s on Christmas Eve 2012, tripped over the chancel step & fell heavily, didn’t try to sue us, but instead was apologetic for disrupting the service. She accepted that it was a result of her not fully looking where she was going. To be fair to her, she could have complained about the lighting which is not good for a night-time service. I’m very pleased to say that our host congregation have active plans to improve it. I didn’t realise that you’d had the experience of a litigious parishioner.

  • Only from the account of a colleague who shared the experience at an archdeaconry clergy meeting. We all shuddered!

    • Ricky

      I slightly misunderstood your previous comment & thought it was one of your former Churches who was sued. But I still shudder with your fellow archdeaconry clergy!

  • Jonathan

    I have to agree with you about the absurdity of the above Ricky, although as you say it’s obviously a question of balance.

    David makes the point that the British like signs anyway, but that’s only part of it, and this insidious Anglo-Saxon trend towards litigation is clearly behind it all. Of course, you could theoretically put a sign anywhere you like – chairs are potentially dangerous objects, as are lampposts – so it’s hard to see where it will all end.

    • Ricky

      Exactly Jonathan – almost anything when being misused, can become a dangerous object. See the earlier comment of Janet regarding knives. As you rightly ask, where will it end?

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