The World Wrapped in Cotton Wool

Warning Signs

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

In recent years, it seems to me, our urban architecture has turned into a sea of yellow and red warning signs and yellow and black striped tape.

Today there seems to be a constant corporate fear of being sued that has caused so much of this kind of protectiveness. For example the Royal Mail depot near me has big warning signs at the site entrance warning of a “Trip Hazard” which may be the ends of the lowered pavement where public pedestrians are corralled between railings towards where they collect parcels. Where this public path intrudes onto the roadway a big yellow line and accompanying signage tells the humans to not stray outside the lines lest they be flattened by Postman Pat’s little red van. There are further trip hazard signs and yellow and black tape at the actual entrance to the collection office as despite there being a ramp to one side the straight ahead approach involves negotiating, unbelievably, a normal height step. OMG, get me some climbing gear. Despite all this there are still the big signs saying “Beware of Vehicles”.  When I was young we were taught the Green Cross Code to follow when near roads.

Another example of the idea of “you didn’t do enough to stop me injuring myself” are scaffolding poles – “now padded for your safety and comfort” and also wrapped in yellow and black tape. I wonder whether it was a ploy to support the manufacturers of tubular yellow foam products, maybe they weren’t selling enough as pipe lagging but at some point in the last fifteen years it was decided that every bit of publicly accessible scaffolding needed legwarmers. On pavements the world over there are lampposts, street signs, litter bins, bollards, walls and even doorsteps or whole sections of buildings jutting out into the path of pedestrians yet none of those things are padded for your protection, or edged with wasp-coloured tape. You can’t say that it’s because as a temporary structure people might not be aware that they’re there as even a lamppost is an unknown obstruction to anyone who doesn’t know the area well – and even to someone who is local but not paying attention. I’m amazed that the lampposts and railings aren’t similarly adorned. Yet.

I can see the point of helpful signage, warning of a hidden step, or low beam, or something round a corner that’s not obvious, just as I can see the point of the interlock on my washing machine that stops you opening the door until the water’s gone – it saves you having to mop up the floor, and aircraft doors can’t be opened in flight for obvious reasons – but some things can only exist because companies think they need to protect people from themselves because they can’t be trusted to negotiate the world without explicit instructions. Trains for example used to have windows that could be opened while moving, as could the doors but not any more because someone might try to depart the vehicle at speed, or perhaps just part of them.

So we end up with shops selling luke-warm coffee or cups plastered with warning that the contents may be hot. Microwave meals similarly warning that on removing the item from the microwave the contents “may be hot” – well I would hope so otherwise it’s time to buy a new microwave.

Perhaps the companies have a point, that more people today don’t have or just don’t use common sense, or maybe that people are more willing to sue if they’ve not been explicitly told not to do something.  Either way at this rate there is a risk of missing the hazards because you’re too busy looking at the signs.