At this week’s meeting of East Lothian Council’s Cabinet, a draft paper on the Council’s Health & Safety policy was discussed. Not, you would think, the most exciting of topics, especially as H&S has become something of a joke these days, requiring behaviour that some would regard as excessively cautious: kids are banned from playing conkers or riding to high on swings.
But, as it is nonetheless necessary to set rules for worker safety, I posed a couple of questions, chief among which was how we would ensure that staff would not use this policy as an opt-out from doing their job. I cited the 2008 case of Allison Hume who fell down a disused mine shaft in Galston, Ayrshire. Strathclyde F&R crews were soon on-site with the necessary ropes and harnesses. But managers deemed the rescue too dangerous and it was seven hours until a mountain rescue team arrived, by which time, Allison had died of her injuries.
ELC staff encounter equivalent cases—whether it’s the bin men who pirouette wheelie bins safely through traffic or social workers who trudged through snow storms two years ago to ensure all their clients were warm and safe or the grit lorry drivers who, by definition, are out on empty roads in the worst weather we get. To date all have been both dedicated and heroic. But, what if they got precious and ‘did a Galston’, declining to take any risks and citing H&S policy?
I was reassured that such would not be the case and that, while risk analysis has been done for all ELC jobs, appreciation was always shown staff who went that extra mile. What I found much more reassuring was a reality check on Lothian’s Number 26 bus related in the Tim’s Tales column in this weeks East Lothian Courier. I thoroughly recommend buying the issue just for this tale but, since the Courier’s scant website only publishes a fraction of the print, I paraphrase it here for those too far from civilisation to get “dead-tree media” yourself.
A Tranent woman was returning home on the lower deck of a Lothian 26 bus on a dark, cold evening witnessed an example of someone doing more than just their job. As the bus approached Musselburgh, a group of five young lads got on, all of whom went upstairs.
At the police station, a young couple around 16 got on with a babe in arms and sat opposite the woman in the pushchair space. When two more lads got on at Newbigging, one recognised the young father and made a threatening gesture to him before both climbed to the top deck to meet the other lads already there. Both he and the mother turned pale and looked distressed.
A tense situation got worse when the two lads returned with three of the others who had boarded earlier and crowded into the seats around the couple, who said nothing. Then the father touched his partner’s hand and stood up as if to get off at the next stop and, presumably, run for it.
As the bus slowed to the next stop, all five lads stood up and waited behind him near the door. Meanwhile, the mother had been frantically trying to phone someone and, because she could raise no answer, had started to cry. It was an ominous situation and the woman witnessing it had no doubt that trouble was about to erupt.
But, just as the bus halted, a clear voice rang out “You lot stay there—you’re no’ leavin’ the bus here.” It was the bus driver, a woman. She looked back up the bus at the mother and asked “You want to get of here too, hen?” Through the tears, the mother shook her head, sobbing “It’s no’ oor stop.”
“Fine” said the driver, turning to the five lads “youse can get off now” and, turning to the father, “and you go sit wi’ yer bairn”. The father slipped unmolested past the five to sit back down beside his young partner. The five lads remained standing by the now-open doors. “Well, go on” the driver said.
“This isnae oor stop either” said one of the lads. “It is now” the driver shot back, with such authority that the lads called the remaining two down from the top deck who remonstrated why they were being ‘pit aff’ into the cold and dark.
” We’re gettin’ a row fae the driver: we’ve tae get aff the bus; she’s telt us tae.” explained one of the five. The driver backed that up “Come on lads, hurry up—there’s another Tranent 26 in five minutes. I’ll let the driver know.” And all seven exited quietly.
The doors closed after them and, as the bus pulled away from the group, the young father gave a triumphal laugh. But the driver snapped at him “That’s enough. You hae a bairn and yer a dad, so act like one.” He nodded in silence, hugged his partner and, for the first time, looked directly at his baby and smiled.
As they got off a few stops later, he said “thanks” to the driver. “Nae bother” she replied “just mind ye hae a bairn now”. As the woman witness got off a few stops after that, she stopped at the driver’s cab and said “Well done for that”. The driver just smiled.
The incident wasn’t major—it might even be commonplace. But you can bet your life that this brave and shrewd intervention by the driver appears in no Lothian training manual, let alone any Health & Safety policy. What the woman witnessed is exactly the kind of thing that makes community more than a random collection of houses populated by individual selfishness.
The driver didn’t need to do what she did and, if identified, would probably get a row from her boss or Lothian’s legal department. But both the young couple and the seven lads shivering five minutes for the next 26 learned something about respect and boundaries and strangers who aren’t really strangers that made them better citizens.
We need people like that driver on our buses, on our grit lorries, in our social work—regular folk who can handle themselves, who would modestly say they’re only doing their jobs but are, in fact, the sensible glue that holds all of us together. Long may we have such people quietly doing their job with such engagement and understanding: we are all the better for it.