Sunday, May 23, 2010

Health and safety - Spanish style or a law suit just waiting to happen

Adios mulberry trees

Our urban obstacle course
For a long time I've known it's safe to assume that because Spain hasn't yet been hit by the American craze of suing over everything and anything, authorities here are rather more relaxed over health and safety issues than in other countries. Take the little urban obstacle course that has materialised outside our office for example.

Until recently, our street was a pretty tree-lined affair. Leafy and shady in the hot summer months, clear and light in the winter. Regularly spaced street lamps lit it at night, rubbish bins hugged each corner and all was well until ... the town hall ripped up the mulberry trees. Local residents had complained that each year the berries created such a juicy, sticky, mess that they wanted the trees removed. With local elections just around the corner - next year - the mayor was happy to oblige. The offending mulberry trees were uprooted and were, we were told, transplanted to another corner of the municipality where they could drop berries to their hearts' content.

We heard that other 'cleaner' trees, probably oranges, were going to replace them. But the weeks have rolled by and the only thing that has materialised is a series of holes in the pavement covered up by cones (at best), big wooden pallets or loose paving stones (at worst) which blend in with the pavement and disguise the danger.

To add to this, on Friday, council maintenance staff started removing the street lights, saying they were broken - which was strange as they worked just fine. In their place, they left holes surrounded by large, protruding nuts and bolts sticking out of the pavement - and as a warning - a yellow plastic bag stuffed in the hole.

Since then we've not got much work done as we sit, biting our nails, enthralled with the suspense of watching passers-by - gossiping mothers, small running children, doddery old men, spaced-out teenagers and intent businessmen - walk unknowingly into our urban minefield. Will they, won't they....

So, because the town hall coffers are empty and the mayor isn't a bad chap (for a politician that is) and I needed to get back to work, I sent an email to a friend at his office on Friday - saying I am tempted to accidentally trip over one of the obstacles that the council has so readily provided me with and sue the town hall for a substantial amount or wait, camera ready, to get a photo and front page exclusive for the local papers when some poor soul has an unexpected head-on encounter with the ground and rearranges their nose.

The reply came back - He was very fond of me and couldn't bear to think of me hurting myself - so the better option was to wait for the world exclusive....PS - They'll address the problem on Monday.

Here's hoping nothing happens over the weekend because I'll miss my scoop.

Weather today: It's very early and hazy but the forecast promises another beautiful crystal-clear spring day. Lovely and warm in the sunshine, cooler in the shade. High 26ºC/79ºF, low 14ºC/57ºF. Easterly breeze 13 km/h. Pressure 1015mb and stable. Relative humidity 63%. UV Index 9.