April’s naked engineer: stripping industry issues bare

Posted on 2 Apr 2012

This month's naked engineer recounts ‘a day in the life’ of battling spurious business regulation.

“Bob called for you earlier,” says my PA as I walk in second thing – much the same as first thing, but apparently deserving of disapproving looks, particularly if you have filled the last remaining parking space, which is disabled, in your lateness.

I placate my conscience with the thought that we have no disabled employees and have never had a disabled visitor at our site in over a decade – I’ll move the car if one materialises. “What does he want?” I ask.

“Something about a lift” she replies, with a thinly disguised subtext of: ‘Why the hell don’t you just ring him and find out.’ Lovely lady my PA.

I obediently go and call Bob. Bob’s the property developer building our new first floor engineering design labs. We would call him Bob the Builder, except he’s six feet four and built like a Russian outhouse.

“There’s a problem with building control,” says Bob. “They won’t agree the access statement for the new labs. Something about the Disability Discrimination Act. You have to have a lift they say.” The heroic manner in which he refrained from saying ‘I bloody well told you so’ should be commended here.

I call building control while thinking; we have a fork lift and a pallet – what could possibly go wrong?

The upshot is that, apparently, I should be spending £40k of my share-holders hard-earned English pounds on a lift, just in case, on the offchance that is, that we ever have a disabled visitor who gets sniffy about having to drink tea with the ground floor proletariat.

Feeling increasingly like a switch board operator I call Jimmy, our finance director and explain the situation. Jimmy’s carefully contained rugby fanatic core is tortured: “£40k would buy a box at Twickenham next season. Don’t these people have any soul?” It seems a fair question.

To cut a long story short; after lots of digging on the interweb – by my PA of course, not me – I eventually found myself with a pile of closely typed pages headed “Disability Discrimination Act,” issued by the Department of Fatty Prescott.

After scrutinising this opus thoroughly I hail for our ‘Greek,’ the perturbed Jimmy.

“Look at this” I cry. “It says here someone actually has to have been disadvantaged before you make alterations to the building. That means Mr Building ‘bloody jobsworth’ Control can’t actually make us put in a lift for no good reason. Whaddya think? Can we avoid this?”

I know Jimmy can’t think after lunch so I was only asking to annoy him, I wasn’t really interested in his opinion. A short while later I am contentedly reading over a three page letter of my own devising to the Chief Jobsworth Officer in Building Control explaining in blunt terms the limitations of what he can demand under the DDA. The delivery of this missive is swiftly followed by a call from the offending office.

“Building Control on the phone” yells my PA through the wall. Why we ever had a phone system put in in the first place is sometimes beyond me. “Mr Chief Jobsworth Officer would like a site meeting to discuss your access statement,” says an obviously very junior jobsworth.

I reluctantly agree to next Tuesday, 11.00am which eventually arrives slightly before I do. Mr Chief Jobsworth Officer is waiting in my office.

“We see your point,” intones Chief Jobsworth in an annoyingly adenoidal manner, “but this and that blah blah blah”. He pulls out some incredible civil service double speak worthy of Sir Humphrey himself but eventually I detect his meaning.

“So I don’t have to put a lift in then?” I ask. “Errr, no” he replies. “Ok, thank you and goodbye” I say, only slightly intentionally letting my office door swing into his groin in vengeance for the hours of wasted time. But I don’t dwell on the negatives. I have triumphed after all and this deserves celebration.

“Call Twickenham hospitality for me!” I yell to my PA.