Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Tuesday 16th September 08

I took our youngest into school as Gill had been up from 6.30 getting packed lunches together and the boys' bags, persuading them to get dressed, etc.

In the playground I had a chat with Mrs P. the headteacher, primarily about the four sacks of finished compost that I removed from the final compost bin where it had been all summer. I needed to know if it was OK to leave it with the other Green Thumbs stuff or whether there was a better position for it. The reason is that the school grounds are not secure in the evenings and youths often use the grounds, and if they were injured or harmed by the sacks of compost or their contents (!!!) they could possibly sue the school. Ridiculous I know, but that's the situation...

However, another very interesting situation has progressed over the summer. The Health and Safety Executive (and local Environmental Health) visited the Japanese Garden which was constructed last year. Regular readers will remember that as the old, tarry sleepers were being unloaded from the contractors lorry, I told the school that I was fairly sure that old railway sleepers were not meant to be used in Children's playgrounds or schools. The next day I gave a letter into the school with the details of the EU legislation (Directive 2001/90/EC) which states this. The contractor was either told or worked out that it was me who had done this and gave me loud publc death threats in the playground, which was most upsetting. The work continued, despite the warnings that I thought that it was illegal. (See also UK Statutory Instrument number 721)

So, the HSE sent a letter (which I haven't seen yet) telling the school that they would have to remove the smelly and possibly carcinogenic sleepers and replace them with untreated ones. However, their reason for this wasn't that it was against the law, but apparently because I had reported that my son was "made to eat his packed lunch off one of the sleepers by Mrs P." which is totally untrue. I had reported to the HSE person that my child was made to (or asked to) eat his packed lunch in the newly opened Japanese Garden and he that afternoon reported to us that the smell of the sleepers had made him feel sick and that's why he hadn't eaten his lunch. So the HSE people had got the story completely twisted up and wrong, and very unfairly blamed the situation on the Head. If I get a copy of the letter, I will write to the author/s and ask for a correction as this situation has given the Headteacher a lot of stress over the summer. The reason they should have given is that the work contravenes an EU Directive. I don't feel that good about it as I'm partly responsible, and I'm sure the head feels bad about it as she ignored my initial advice, before the sleepers were installed. However, I am glad the garden will be made fit for use, although I'm sorry that this will cost so much more than if the situation had been sorted right at the beginning.

In searching the net about information offered to members of the public, I found this site which is offering illegal advice to use treated sleepers in gardens as planting containers. http://www.railwaysleeper.com/railway%20sleeper%20treatments.htm I had an email discussion with one of the people at this site about the way it seems to suggest that it's ok to use treated sleepers as plant containers, and was assured that they communicate the facts of the legislation to all customers. However, I was still unhappy to see photos of raised beds growing vegetables made with creosoted railway sleepers on this website, when this is explicitly prohibited.
So my advice is to only use UNTREATED sleepers if you have any doubts as to the suitability of their purpose. They cost a bit more (ie they are not 'waste'!) but don't smell awful, leach carcinogenic chemicals onto skin or clothes, or run you the risk of being told to replace them.

I had a low-mood day as I've been feeling unwell, headache, tummy ache, tired. I went to bed for a while and haven't eaten much... Gill persuaded me to have a fried egg sandwich but I ate it without enthusiasm.


Aliboo said...

Interesting! It's sad when people listen but don't hear and unfortunately all too common.

I am shocked that the contractors made death threats to you. How unnecessary is that! And for Local Govt to get things so wrong is shocking too, not because they have a reputation for getting things right all the time, far from it! But detail is important and they should take more care when making statements about individual lives and not potentially disrupt good working relationships.

As for the railway sleepers, thanks for the heads up. I am inclined to use them in my garden, in order to break up the concrete and brick work. So it's good to hear about them, and what's good to use and which ones certainly aren't.

Compost John said...

Thanks for this comment.

The man has been aggressive towards me before so I knew I was taking a risk pointing it out to the school, but I would have said it about ANY worker's use of treated sleepers.

I am disappointed that the school did not follow up my original suggestion as if they had, it would have saved them a lot of bother. As for the local authority, I too am suprised that they initially didn't know the correct thing to do.

But the matter is out of my hands now and I'm not going to get involved any more!