Not Completely Relevant But: How Many Australian Politicians Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Hi Readers! The answer is, apparently: None! It is too dangerous! At least, that’s what the Department of Health and Safety says, according to this article.

The issue surfaced during a Senate estimates hearing when Liberal Eric Abetz told upper house colleagues he was prevented recently from changing a light bulb in his electorate office.

He was told that the rules meant an electrician had to be called.

“It is just impractical, it’s stupid,” Senator Abetz told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Most Australians would say if a person is not capable of changing a light globe, chances are they are not capable of running an electorate office.”

Senator Abetz said he had been told changing a bulb could require climbing a ladder which was a safety risk.

The (tangential) Free-Range issue here is this: Why are we increasingly subject to rules and regs that have nothing to do with REAL safety and everything to do with litigation, worst-case-scenario-fantasizing and good ol’ CYA? It’s a time, money and morale-waster, with the added benefit of turning competent people into incompetent cowards. Just like so many rules and regs are implementing with kids: No, children, you CANNOT ride your bikes to school. No, children, you CANNOT do your own chemistry experiments. No, children, you CANNOT babysit/whittle/get a paper route/smile at a stranger. It is all TOO DANGEROUS.

And someday we will wonder why no one in the world (except, perhaps, electricians) can do anything.


Ok, maybe THIS one would be a little hard to change.


34 Responses

  1. it has, of course, nothing to do with safety, but liability and insurance.

    If I were to change a light bulb on the job and use a chair instead of a ladder and hurt myself, I could get in trouble – the insurance could try to claim negligence on my part.

    Not even counting medical expenses – I believe Australia has near complete socialited NHS – but the real danger is in followup costs like hiring a temp to take my place and so on.

  2. It might be insurance but another factor that often limits people from doing perfectly sensible things in the work place are contractual agreements and protectionism. Especially in a public service situation, the electrician requirement may be a part of the union’s contract with the Government.

    Not all of these things are always really health and safety, they’re often just the acceptable “excuse” used to get something else.

  3. I was getting all sorts of crap recently from a co-worker for climbing a 2 step, step ladder to hang up some artwork the kids in our after-school program had finished. Yes, I’m 7 months pregnant but it’s a sturdy step ladder and I’m 2 feet off the ground. Then again, I’m also working at a place that won’t let the kids do a backflip or hang by their knees on a bar that is 3 1/2 feet off the ground, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

  4. Being an Australian I think that it comes down to the o h and s policies. As far as I’m aware, no Polly has been hurt from the changing of a lightbulb. Just bureaucracy gone mad.

  5. It might actually be more of a union thing. My dad is an electrician and every time a light bulb went out in his factory, a union electrician had to be called (if not already on duty) even if it was 3am. Then the union electrician had to be paid a minimum of 4 hours of time-and-a-half for having provided his unique lightbulb-changing skills. It was in the union contract, therefore it was more absolute than the law. As soon as an electrician was promoted to management, the task of changing a lighbtulb at night fell to one of his subordinates – even if he was on the premises!!

  6. From the Newark (OH) Advocate


    Alayna Staggers took her 18-month old granddaughter to the post office Monday afternoon, never imagining every split second decision could have life or death consequences.

    “I usually carry her, but if I feel I’m in a safe area, I let her toddle along. It was a matter of footsteps or seconds, and she’d been killed.”

    Fear mongering at its best. I’m writing to the editor. This was front page today!

  7. My office is like that. We work in a renovated hotel from the ’20’s. The stairs are steep and make stair steppers look like a treadmill, we work in narrow old hotel rooms and have bed bugs thanks to the hostel next door (that has a medical mary-joo-wana dispensary on the first floor of all things). But DO NOT get caught changing a light bulb or *gasp* MOVING FURNITURE in your office. Of all the safety concerns in this building THAT is what is most frowned upon. Never mind the mold growing in all the old pipes or the holes in the floor from old plumbing that was ripped out. Or the skylight that shakes like a belly dancer when the wind blows………Or the drunk homeless that vomit and defecate on our entrances to the building……Or the ice that builds up and 2 people have broken their ankles coming in or out of the building…..I would be happy if my windows weren’t drafty all winter!!

  8. i’m with SKL. if it were the US, it’d totally be a union thing.

  9. I work at a public hospital (not in the States, obviously) and the forms we have to fill out to get a simple repair done are time consuming and ridiculous. In response, our ward has made up our “secret” tool box. Its simply a small toolbox hidden in a cabinet containing a few screw drivers, a small hammer, pliers and other simple tools that we pull out to do minor repairs when its quicker to do it ourselves than fill out the forms. It’s become a bit of an “in-joke”, but its also kind of sad that we have to do it that way. Maybe we need more advocates for free range adults!

  10. It is a combination of union and insurance, I’d wager. Changing a lightbulb is not distinguished from wiring a circuit breaker in the already-overly-complicated classifications of tasks (it will be under “performing electrical maintainance” or some such”, mandated by insurance and enforced by unions who want to maintain as large a demesne as possible. At my alma mater, there was a network of helium return pipes (liquid helium is used for supercooling and very expensive, so they wanted to capture and recompress as much as possible) which was not on the schematics because if it had been officially done, the university’s labourers would have had to do it, at their own pace.

  11. When we realize our last famous genius was Albert Einstein, it will be too late.

    If we prevent ourselves having the open expanse of creativity and thought, we’re going to be heading down the drain even faster than before. If it’s all too dangerous, no one will take the chance – or if they do – they’ll get arrested and imprisoned in a privately run facility until they “learn their lesson” and never try again.

  12. Yes Lenore, it is totally a CYA type of thing. They’re “thinking like lawyers,” as you’d so aptly put it.

    So logical that it’s stupid. Silly. CYA is the modus de operandi (if I spelled that correctly). What else can I say? I can’t, so I won’t.

  13. If anything that could hurt more, my school renovated its computer lab a few years ago. I came to the principal and suggested help in refurbishing and donating the old computers to students in need

    However, the computers were not refurbished. They were destroyed one after another using an axe to prevent any option of reuse, and discarded

    When I asked why : “We cannot take responsibility for students injured using school equipment outside of school premises”

    Just for the record, I managed to sneak few computers from the trash and swapped the components that remained intact, turning 6 demolished boxes into 2 working computers and donating them to 2 school students in need which I was aware of. And guess what, they came healthy to school for couple years after that

    Schools are not an educational institution any longer. They are a factory for loyal civilians. Loyal to fear and to insurance services

  14. My guess is, it’s a liability thing as a smokescreen for a union thing. And what Timmyson said — overly broad rules for both. Where I live, it is illegal for a homeowner to change a light switch — all “electrical work” (basically anything more complicated than changing alight bulb or replacing an outlet COVER — must be done by a licensed electrician, or an electrician’s helper subject to inspection by the licensed electrician. In this case, it is advertised as a “safety thing” (we don’t want someone to change a light fixture wrong and burn down his house) but is really because the city council is in the pocket of the trade unions. The same thing goes for plumbing — anything beyond replacing a washer has to be done by or under the eye of a licensed plumber. Of course, those law is second in being flouted only to the speeding laws.

  15. @ash: what a horrible, horrible waste of resources. At the very least the computers could have been donated to a local charity, if not necessarily to the students. It’s just one more example of government spending gone wrong.

    @pentamom: I’m not an certified electrician, but my last job was as a wireman for an electronics company. We would build giant enclosures and I would run the wires and install electrical components and do conduit work, etc, so of course, wiring a house would be no problem. And I found out that I could do electrical work in my own house, but if there were ever an electrical fire and the insurance company found out that the work was not done by a certified electrician, they wouldn’t cover anything. Of course, it’s about as difficult to wire a light switch wrong as it is an outlet cover, but there you go.

  16. “We cannot take responsibility for students injured using school equipment outside of school premises”

    Aaaaaarrrrggggghhhhh!!!!!! If you give it away, it’s not “school equipment” anymore, genius!

    If they’re that paranoid, have the parents sign a waiver stating that they are accepting the computers as-is as a donation, and they understand that the computers are no longer the property or responsibility of the school.

  17. WIth the computers, it might also be that there is stuff on the hard drives that shouldn’t be sent out. They should have called a computer expert to come in and clean off the drives and find some charity that would accept donated computers.

    The other thing about computers is that there are a lot of old ones lying around and they don’t support the more recent software anyway. Even if a desktop computer (with big bulky monitor, etc.) once cost $1,000, most people would rather pay a few hundred dollars for a trim laptop with a thousand times more memory. Even for kids who can’t afford the cheapest laptop, where are they going to put all that bulk? So I guess I’m saying there may be very limited demand for donated computers, and giving them to kids may just momentarily delay their trip to the treelawn.

    But yeah, I recall a discussion about things people in the community can do for schools. I was suggesting that unemployed HS teens / graduates could renovate the schools during the summer in exchange for minimum wage, under the tutelage of an experienced contractor. The school employees in the discussion beat that down pretty quickly. Only union workers are allowed to do any work in schools. And so it’s not being done, because the schools can’t afford union workers. So the schools ask for tax levies which get voted down because the economy can’t support union wages to pretty up the high school gym. So the youth stay unemployed, the gym stays ugly (or if repairs are absolutely necessary, teachers get fired to balance the budget), and complaints abound. Thank you, union mentality.

  18. I’m actually surprised they called in an electrician. Surely the risk of them suing the electorate if something goes wrong is much higher then when it’s someone who relies on the office for their employment…, right?

  19. Lucky him, he got his light bulb changed in the end.
    In Spain, he would have to fill in an incident report, have the electrician inspect the site, then wait till Mantainance make an order for said lightbulb, then reorder it because the one they got had the wrong screw, and finally (wait at your office during lunch hour because you need to sign the form for the electrician) you get a new lightbulb they will change in two weeks anyway, for a environmentally friendly one worth like 2 Watts with which you don’t see a thing.
    And trust me, I’ve seen buildings with wiring so old, I would gladly hire an electrician just to plug an appliance…

  20. Perhaps it’s more a case of, if a politician proves they’re capable of something practical like changing a light bulb, they’re no longer qualified to be a politician?

  21. The computers were the very last generation of Pentium MMX’s. They worked acceptably well at surfing online and writing assignments with word 2000. After refurbishing, I reformatted them with linux with some lightweight applications, and they worked well for the 2 years I was in contact with the students who got them.

    We did have to get monitors, but could find 2 old ones by asking friends.

    The hard drives contained nothing special, they used to be classroom computers accessible by anyone anyway.

    This story revealed the other side of the school too. After pretty much putting the school to face a fact that the 2 computers are allready donated, they managed to give those 2 students free dial-up internet

    Its really that little that was needed. An obsolete computer with netscape literally changed those 2 failing students into ones that show interest

  22. It’s a union thing. At a previous job, I was responsible for working at several trade shows (I’m an electrical engineer and was working for an industrial computer company at the time).

    Each show city had their own rules, with the worst being Chicago. We had a very simple booth that was easy as pie to construct. But I wasn’t [officially] allowed to use a screwdriver, and a power drill w/screwdriver bit was flat unacceptable!

    Instead, I had to stand there and instruct the union laborers step-by-step on how to screw things together properly. Billed roughly $100/hour per laborer. And that doesn’t even begin to talk about their delays and mandated breaks! A job that would have taken myself and another employee 2 hours usually took about 6.

    And, of course, as mentioned, I’m an electrical engineer. It’s our own booths and our own exhibit, with which I’m extremely familiar. But the unions own Chicago, and you don’t so much as breathe in McCormick Place without union permission.

  23. This is not new, it’s job protectionism though and safety is just a ruse.

    My mother was a manager at a well known aerospace firm in the 1950s. One day the clock on her wall broke and she asked for a new one. She was not allowed to install it herself. A crew of 5 people came to her office. There was a carpenter to make sure the nail that held the old one in was still in good shape, and his supervisor. There was a licensed electrician whose job it was to unplug the old one and plug in the new one, and his supervisor. Then there was a special contractor who was certified to oversee work groups from multiple unions since the electricians and carpenters belonged to different unions. During the work, mom was required to leave her office for the day so that they could have a clear work site and the project took all day.

  24. @Scott:

    Really? All day? Even with all those extra people and processes, I would expect it to take half a day at most…

    I wonder if they were paid by the hour…

  25. @Scott:
    Whew. I thought it was just us underdeveloped PIGS (Portuguese, Italians, Greeks and Spanish are not well considered here in Europe). Now I see it’s more a question of compulsive-obssessive disorder amongst engineers. I should know; my husband’s one of ’em.

  26. Hi Lola, I’m not sure I understood your comment. The aerospace engineers thought that requiring five people to swap out a wall clock was absurd. In addition, none of the union electricians or carpenters were engineers. Back then engineers did things like fly airplanes, play sax in jazz clubs, and hob nob with politicians and movie stars during their time off, I’m not sure that indicates obsessive compulsiveness. Engineering was pretty well respected in the 1950s.

  27. In a rental, in Australia, we too were prohibited from changing a lightbulb ourselves.
    This irritated me a fair bit, but, nevertheless, I persisted in filling in the forms to get a lightbulb changed. Without it it made cooking in the kitchen dangerous (and wasnt working the day we moved in).

    When we moved out 12months later it still hadnt been changed.
    The electrician couldnt come out, when they were they were doing other apartments, and when I did finally get one in my apartment, he didnt have the correct gear.

    Oh, and I would have changed it myself, but, we had a big angry warning letter stating that would violate our lease and lead to an eviction.


  28. Discarded, Ash? How stupid! They should’ve sold them for salvage – there’s a lot of valuable metals in computers that go for a lot of money.

  29. Today I had a chance conversation with a 26year old jeweller who is just loving his job and lifestyle. He told me he was making jewellery since age 12, being taught by his father a gemstone jeweller who was previously a geologist for a large mining company. We spoke about his feeble schooling experience and the pranking they did which was largely about intelligent lads who were unengaged with the educational process. He also explained how he had recently designed a complex electronic circuit board and utilities but was in no hurry to go off and become an engineer, recognising that there are a number of pathways back into academic and scientific work. He isn’t quite sure what schooling provided past the basic math and english. I wondered whether a problem solving approach to the adolescent life might not see youth training in more skills with ‘risky’ tools and them custom-making their education along the way. After all, many of us will now live to 100 years plus, and be able to continue learning for 90% of that life. Why this ongoing anxiety to sink a lot of peripheral knowledge in children and youth when they could be leading a more active community and trading life from an early age. I’d love to see all 12 year olds spending 3 – 4 hours every day in community service or trade, 3 – 4 hours in social, recreational and environmental interaction, and yes, okay 3 hours in a classroom.

  30. Stupid union rules like this have pestered civilization for generations. In most large American cities you can’t plug in your own equipment at a trade show; a union member has to do it.

    Almost all intrusive and disabling regulations are a gift from government.

  31. LOL – I work at a nuclear power station, refurbishing a laid up reactor. Because it is a “construction” project, all workers must wear closed-toe shoes as a safety measure, even the office workers. The really funny part is the office staff work side-by-side with the office staff of the operating (ie, “non-construction”) reactors, and they are allowed to wear open-toed footwear. So my desk is a hazardous area, but the desk next to me is not? Give me a break…

  32. As an Australian I feel ashamed at reading this blog today. Three of the most ludicrous posts stem from events here. Lightbulb changing being too dangerous for allegedly sentient adults. Grown men being scared of kids in changerooms. And councils closed famous playgrounds because of insurance risks (though I know they certainly do this, you only get safe sanitised playgrounds, a few years ago in a small country town we found an old metal slippery dip (slide), it was huge, at least several metres tall, my son absolutely loved it). It certainly isn’t union policies here. It’s Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) gone mad. We have laminated safety instructions on the toasters in the hospital where I work. It’s crazy. Toasters used by educated, professional people need instructions telling us to plug it in, turn it on, and don’t stick a knife in it. I second deanne, I think we need a free range adult movement!

  33. we always use LED digital wall clocks at home because they have very readable characters ~

  34. H&S has gone totally OTT in the UK.. I work in the drainage industry and we recently had a H&S audit.. We have just had to pay out almost £300 on a cabinet to lock away ‘hazardous substances’.. Understandable in some trades but we are talking about disinfectant, sealer, grease, etc., in case of the following..

    a) Small children decide to drink it.. No children come to the stores in our work site.
    b) sight inpaired people get mixed up.. No unauthorised person is allowed in the stores area.
    c) Someone decides to break in and make a bomb out of the stuff we keep (I kid you not, that is the example the H&S bloke used!!!!)

    We do keep pipe patching materials on our site but these are only hazardous when mixed ready to be installed in a pipe and our guys are fully trained to work with them safely. In the stores they are in separate containers and not a risk according to the manufacturers.

    So at a time when business is tough we are having to fork out for a fire proof, reinforced cabinet to keep the ‘hazardous substances’ locked up.

    I keep far worse things in the cupboard under my kitchen sink but taught my children not to be imbeciles and try to drink the stuff or to pour it in their eyes.

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