SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


My towering reason why
you shouldn’t mess with the elf ’n’safety brigade


Like many people of my generation I never had much time for “‘elf n safety”. 

I chuckled when journalist Quentin Letts poked fun at "topple testers" who wrestle tombstones on the basis that one day in the next millennium one might fall and crush a child or a badger. 

I despised headmasters who either banned conker fights or made contestants wear ridiculous laboratory goggles. 

I concurred with the factory manager who once told me: "In my day on the shop floor if you caught your hand in a mangle and asked for an entry in the accident book you were considered a nancy boy!" 

But that all changed one night on the graveyard shift in The Sun’s Manchester office in 1998. I was the only person in the office, on one floor of a 17-storey building, pictured right. The shift was progressing without incident when I became aware of a strange smell. Not gas, not sewage. A familiar smell, however, that reminded me of a fish market. But not a fishy smell, something chemical.  

I scoured the interlinked offices for clues in vain. Then I noticed I was becoming drowsy and my eyes were not focusing properly. I felt weak. I opened the windows and rang the office manager who advised me to call 999. 

Because 111 Piccadilly has 17 floors that meant a mandatory "five pump call-out" for the fire brigade. Minutes later my solitary confinement was interrupted by 40 firefighters, many in breathing gear. They escorted me from the building and made a more professional search which quickly yielded the culprit: a faulty fridge. Its corroded pipes were leaking lethal ammonia (incidentally a by-product in the breakdown of fish proteins). 

The man in the white helmet said I had done the right thing. I could so easily have ended up in a fridge of my own and as a front page lead, too, with a posthumous herogram from the news editor no doubt. No, you can't mess with 'elf and safety.