Escaping the UK’s nanny state - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

28 June 2012

Our beloved Midori House was rudely, crudely invaded yesterday. While all Monocle and Winkreative staff enjoyed lunch outside in our car park garden, a health and safety SWAT team tore through all five floors of the building and plastered almost every surface with fire safety signs.

We’ve been here for a year and a half and praise the lord we have not had a fire. It’s just as well because until yesterday none of us would have known where to go or what to do. Thankfully it is now very clear – we have 86 signs pointing to the buttons and exits. I love a button but even I feel it’s a little unnecessary to have a sign tell me where I can find one every three metres in the building and what to do when I find it (push it, real good). We have 23 red plastic fire extinguisher cases, which look hospital-y and orthopaedic. Each contains a brand new water or CO2 extinguisher and, as of yesterday afternoon we have nine fully-trained members of staff who know how to “operate” them.

It is of course the law, as spelled out in the United Kingdom by the Fire Protection Association’s regulations. Should we choose to keep our walls fire exit-free and the building burns down, we will be in trouble – not just with our dear readers, listeners and clients – but with the insurance department. The individual who actions removing any of the signs or extinguishers will be personally liable.

There’s so much that’s crazy about all of this, it’s difficult to know where to begin. For a start we know where the exits are in our office. And instinct surely tells even the dimmest of visitors to the building to run away from a fire should they be unfortunate enough to encounter one while under our roof.

It’s the idiocy that we need to be told or shown or pointed in the direction of things that we know, simply to tick boxes, simply to satisfy the worst-case scenario. It’s the pathetic bureaucratic tangle we find ourselves drowning in here in Britain. Form-filling and box-ticking has rendered common sense redundant. The nice clean walls of our lives here have been cluttered with inane signs telling us to do things, which we know how to do. Or else we will be punished and probably penalised. Health and safety with its army of regulators and signs, far from helping or protecting us is merely obstructing our ability to live as we wish, with the trust and responsibility to make the judgements that any sensible adult should be able to.

The 86 signs we now live and work among in Midori House sadly show to our revolving door of international clients, guests and friends that the UK is a nanny state. And nanny makes her feelings felt on every wall. It’s even more unfortunate as a headquarters populated with some of the world’s better graphic designers, to be living in the shadow of such an incoherent jumble of font, colour and kerning. We asked politely if we could design our own replacements. Nanny replied: “The design should come secondary to the primary function, which is safety.”

I beg to disagree. Good design enhances, rather than detracts, from function. And besides, 86 ugly fire exit signs do not in any way make us safer.


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