Friday 19 December 2014

Last Christmas

It’s not always easy for everybody, the festive season. While many of you are winding down and descending that drunken spiral into mince pie-fuelled Olympic-strength sloth, many will continue to work right up until Wednesday and some will have no break at all. Consider those who work in A&E; while most industries slacken the pace over Christmas, the health business has to notch up a gear to cope with the entirely preventable afflictions resulting from the latent stupidity that lurks just beneath the pale, waxy skin of much of the population.

And what of the service industries? Also the delivery drivers, the hospitality trade and everybody who works in what we once called ‘a shop’ but is now known as ‘retail’. But who among you have ever spared a thought for the brewers? Think about it – after a frenzied month of domestic booze buying and stocking up, all the producers are hard pressed to replenish their stock. Add to that the vintners, supermarkets, public houses and hotels and far from taking a break, the vineyards, distilleries and the combined might of the workers of Burton-on-Trent are flat out all during December to ensure that the new year doesn’t start dry.

And of course there is stretch; as productivity hits the roof it is only to be expected that health and safety takes a back seat as grapes are trod, ethanol distilled and hops mashed to kingdom come to bring forth their sweet, sweet intoxicants. All of which brings to mind an incident just a few short years ago that has become a byword for the callous indifference of employers to the safety needs of the their workers in the brewing trade. The tragic outcome was both regrettable and avoidable and had profit not come before production, Hamish McPlaid might still be alive today.

At the inquest convened to investigate the tragic drowning of Hamish the central piece of evidence for The Crown versus GlenFiddle was the lengthy CCTV footage from the Pot Still Room. The coroner and jury looked on aghast as they watched the late Scotsman’s last two hours on earth. Unaccompanied he patrolled the giant vessels, taking samples, examining them and making meticulous notes on the clipboard he carried. On occasion he imbibed a sample from the odd batch and as the footage clocked forward he became visibly overcome by the liquor and the heady fumes. With no co-worker to intercede, his sampling rate increased and finally, stretching over the copper lip of one of the vast containers, he lost his balance and tumbled in.

The court gasped as they saw his struggles and had to force themselves to watch as he took a full ninety minutes to drown. In the summing up the judge emphasized to the jury how, had there been another employee present, Hamish would almost certainly have survived his ordeal and that a charge of negligence should surely be the verdict against the GlenFiddle Distillery. The jury nodded and made notes, then turned to hear the response from the legal representative of the company.

Safety first!

“My Lord,” he began, “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I feel I should point out that the deceased must surely bear some of the blame for his own demise.” The jury turned hostile and began to barrack the lawyer until the coroner silenced them to insist they heard him out. “Yes,” he agreed, “Mr McPlaid was unaccompanied and yes a companion would undoubtedly have averted this tragic outcome. But having watched the same tape of events as you all have I am astonished that in heaping all of the blame on my company you did not once take into consideration a major self-inflicted contributory factor.” The jury fell silent as counsel continued. “Did not a single one of you notice the reason he took so long to drown was that he climbed out three times to go to the toilet?”

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