From sifting sandpits to sueing Greeks

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The Independent Online

Continuing our occasional series of PEOPLE WITH VERY UNUSUAL JOBS INDEED. No 80: An Olympic health and safety inspector

Continuing our occasional series of PEOPLE WITH VERY UNUSUAL JOBS INDEED. No 80: An Olympic health and safety inspector

"Of course people think I am a spoilsport," says Brian Weed. "They see me digging around in a long-jump pit, apparently holding things up, but think of it this way. IF there was something in the sand, and IF our jumper landed on it and IF he hurt himself badly, it would be the total waste of one athlete, wouldn't it? We would have paid for someone to go to Athens for no reason. That's not cost-effective in anyone's language. So I shall not be ashamed to be seen rooting around in the sand, looking for stray objects left by previous jumpers."

And that's not all. Brian Weed will also be inspecting badminton nets, looking at running tracks, checking pole-vault bars ... checking pole-vault bars?

"Certainly," says Brian. "When you have a vaulter attempting a height of about 20 feet or so, and he knocks off the bar, the odds are that it will land on him just after he's landed. An object falling on someone's head from 20 feet is a health hazard in anyone's language. I want to make sure that that bar is not too heavy, or pointed at one end, or hazardous in any other way."

But pole vaulting is, by its very nature, a risky sport, is it not?

"It is," agrees Brian, "and that is why one should minimise the inherent risk. At the very least there should be a notice on every pole-vault bar warning contestants that they are undertaking a potentially harmful activity and they are doing this at their own risk."

But surely a pole vaulter won't have nearly enough time to read a warning notice as he springs into the air?

"No, it's not really for him to read while he is vaulting. It's to make sure we are covered against any mishaps."

But isn't this the old nanny state syndrome? To put labels on simply everything saying it might contain traces of nut?

"Ah, that's something else I have to do," says Brian Weed. "Check everything for traces of nut. The water they hand out during the marathon ... the boxing gloves ... the batons in the relay races ..."

Why would you have to check a boxing glove for traces of nut?

"Stands to reason. Man hits you in the face. His glove has traces of nut on it. It gets in your mouth. You have a toxic attack. Very serious."

Yes, but what are the chances...?

"I am here to prevent the unlikely and the unthinkable," says Brian Weed. "This is nothing new. The Olympic people have always tried to make things safer. Take fencing. There was a time when people with swords actually tried to wound each other. That's a health and safety risk in any language, so they devised a method of electronic scoring, whereby contact between foil and armour completed a circuit and rang a buzzer. "But what if the scoring method went wrong and a fencer was electrocuted?!"

Has that ever happened?

"That's not the point," says Brian Weed. "I have to make sure it doesn't ever happen. That is why I have to see that all scoring devices are correctly wired, are properly earthed and conform to British electrical standards. And have warning notices on them, of course."

And what if, unthinkably, something does go wrong?

"If we were in Britain, I would slap an injunction on the particular event and get it closed down. If, as seems likely, the Greeks do not recognise British health and safety orders, then I would call in our lawyer."

There will be a lawyer attached to the British team?

"Oh, at least a dozen. We may not be able to run to victory, but with our calibre of lawyer, we can sue our way to the top."

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