COLIN CHANNON: Jumping (very carefully) off the health-and-safety bandwagon

This week’s column is written by our old friend Helen Pine...

The Health and Safety police have stopped me cleaning, made me throw perfectly good food in the bin and questioned my ability to use a cloth – and I can’t take it any more.

I know there have been rainforests of rants written about the pettiness of certain health and safety regulations, but I’m afraid I’m going to jump on the bandwagon (not while it’s moving, obviously, that could be dangerous and I haven’t done the course in how to jump on moving bandwagons).

I’d been cooking lunch at our little village school following a campaign to make hot food available for primary age children, which I think is really important.

When I was at primary school I either had cooked lunch where I poured hot custard from a height of 3ft (seriously dangerous) or trotted home (by myself, aaaaahh!) where mum boiled me an egg.

And as a mum myself, I don’t always think a cold lunch box is enough to get my little ones through a winter’s day.

And for some children school lunch is the only decent food they get all day.

I persuaded one little fella to try melon. He struggled valiantly for a while until I said: “What’s the matter? Don’t you like it?’

“I like the top,” he said, “but not the bottom.” I explained it was okay to leave the skin and gave him a star for trying something new.

There were five-year-old girls who stuffed their crisps down the radiators to be allowed hot food. I was there for birthdays, new kids, fall-outs, parents divorcing and even dying. I will miss terribly their little faces, lopsided compliments and funny comments.

I know health and safety is important – and nowhere more so than in catering. But I was not allowed to clean the top of the fridge because I hadn’t done a course in Using a Step Ladder. So it stayed dirty. Where’s the sense in that?

If there were 15 children eating lunch, I had to put 15 chocolate muffins in bowls with a handful of blueberries in each. I’ve known half these kids since before they were born and I can tell you categorically two of them won’t touch their muffins, three of them might be cajoled into trying a couple of blueberries and another six will tip the whole lot in the bin. Such avoidable waste.

I had to sign (witness) every line I wrote in a daily logbook in case the company needed to prove it was me who tested the temperature of the fridge, accepted the delivery or washed the floor, despite the fact there was only me there.

But I realised it was time to go when one of the area bosses travelled 25 miles to complete my ‘Spill Box’ training.

Every morning a Tupperware box had to be put on the windowsill containing a pair of disposable gloves and a piece of kitchen roll.

If I spilt anything, I had to go to this box, pull on the gloves, take out the piece of tissue (not a different piece, mind), wipe up the spill, dispose of the gloves and the tissue, record the entire incident in my logbook (sign and witness my own entry)and replenish the Spill Box.

“Thank goodness for that,” I said, when they finished my training. “For two years I’ve had no idea what to do if I spilt a bit of custard. “I’ve just been falling flat on my face. Now I will be able to clean it up safely.”

I think I jumped just before I was pushed...