When I became the division environment, safety, and health officer, however, I was thrust into the rarefied world of Bureaucracy Safety, which bears no resemblance to reality as most of us experience it. That the Manhattan Project scientists did not have a formal safety program and relied on common sense had no bearing on present-day operations at the prestigious laboratory. It was enough to know back in 1944 that if you put your lips on a sphere of plutonium, you were asking for trouble, and if you were carrying the business end of a bomb, you'd go carefully with it if you loved your arms and legs.
As the division environmental officer, for example, I attended meeting after meeting on how our administrative operation could reduce its carbon footprint. The meetings were always held downtown, which necessitated using a vehicle, and we had reams of paper to read, reams of paper to write our environmental plans on, reams of paper with notes about our reams of paper. We had to explain in great detail why our administrative operations did not use solvents for removing aircraft hydraulic fluid. Irony was lost on the leaders of the meetings.
We had safety procedures for every imaginable operation. Need to change out the carboy in the water cooler? We had a procedure. Need to insert earplugs when the custodian was vacuuming? We had a procedure ("Do not insert the earplugs into your nostrils."). Need to dispose of a blade used to cut foam core? We had a procedure. Need to use some correction fluid? We had a procedure and a material safety data sheet. No trivial, everyday, ordinary act was so insignificant that the Powers That Be could not throw common sense out the window and create a thorough, detailed, multi-page procedure for doing it in a vain attempt to protect us from ourselves. Naturally, the people actually doing the jobs resented the procedures, and human nature being what it is, they looked for loopholes.
It put me in mind of when I was the municipal judge in Maxwell and had to enforce an ordinance that forbade tying your horse to anything that the horse could nibble on. "No horse shall be tethered, tied, fastened, bound, or trussed to any bush, shrub, tree, sapling, or sprout in such a way that the horse may feed on, eat, masticate, manducate, nibble, or chew on said bush, shrub, tree, sapling, or sprout." So if a person were hauled into municipal court because he tied up his horse at the mercantile and it ate the lilacs out front, he could get off without a fine because he could say he "lashed" his horse to the lilac, and it was "noshing" on the leaves. So the village council would revise the ordinance to include lashing and noshing and hoped that no one would "hitch" a horse in such a way that the horse could "munch." Things could get out of hand pretty quickly.
But I digress. After the attacks of September 11, the prestigious national laboratory instituted a policy to ensure that all bags, briefcases, luggage, purses, backpacks, and lunch buckets were affixed with ID tags with the owner's name and phone number on them. See, in addition to hating freedom, terrorists do not tag their bags. The bomb boys were afterwards regularly dispatched to "disrupt" somebody's untagged lunch bucket. (And yet when the casing of Fat Man was on a flat bed truck in our parking lot, did it turn anyone's head? Nooo-oooo-ooo.)
We had to evacuate a month or so ago because the County guys who were working on the roof of the museum next door had left an untagged cooler in front of the building. The street was cordoned off, the cops told us to evacuate the store, and the bomb boys were called. We were very excited about the prospect of watching them blow up--er, disrupt--the cooler, even though several people were hollering at the cops, "It's the County guys' soda! They're still on the roof. Ask 'em!" After standing out on the sidewalk for 45 minutes or so and explaining to our bemused visitors about laboratory safety, we were allowed to resume business. The bomb boys never showed, much to the disappointment of those of us who were anticipating an appearance by the little bomb-disrupting robot.
On Columbus Day, one of the folks from the museum next door came cantering into the store and said that they had a suspicious package and were evacuating the building. I asked what the package was. He replied, "It's a green purse in the ladies' room! You should evacuate!" I told him that purses left in restrooms aren't really so uncommon and that I'd evacuate when the cops or bomb boys told us to, but in the meantime, I wasn't closing because some visitor left her purse in the john.
Again the cops cordoned off the streets. Again the bomb boys didn't show. The museum guy came in to ask whether we knew the phone numbers of the museum director and safety guy, because nobody knew how to get hold of them. Meanwhile, the cops apparently opened the purse, found the owner's cell phone, called her husband, and made the world safe for democracy.
The museum visitors spent the whole time in the store, and we did land-office business for about an hour and a half.
Have you tagged your evening bag, m'dear?