Health and Safety on a Submarine
On board HMS Vulnerable Somewhere in the north Atlantic 00.43hrs
Zulu time. The giant sub had been sitting 40 metres below the
churning waves for eight straight hours. The crew were edgy,
nervous, sweaty, knowing that the fate of the nation and the free
world was being discussed in the skipper's wardroom. The order to
fire the boat's nuclear weapons deep into the heart of enemy
territory had been received and authenticated at 08.00hrs. But now
it was gone midnight and still the missiles were in their tubes.
Behind the oak-panelled door of his cabin, Captain Clint Thrust was
listening wearily to his health and safety executive officer, Nigel
Ormskirk, who had read the risk assessment form and was not
"Captain, you say here that these missiles contain plutonium and you
are proposing that we detonate them over a city. Do you not realise
people could be hurt here?"
Twenty-five-year-old Ormskirk had left Keele University with a third
in human resources, having impressed the examiners with his paper on
the perils of hand and arm vibration injuries among stone masons.
Since being posted to the sub fleet, he had chalked up a number of
successes, chief among which was changing his boat's name from HMS
Vanquish to HMS Vulnerable. He was particularly proud of his 1997
"Be Seen" campaign after which the sub had not hit a single trawler.
Thrust, the gnarled old salty sea dog captain, had objected, of
course, saying the point of a submarine was rather lost if it was
bright orange and had to spend its entire time on the surface. But
what did he know.
"You see," Ormskirk was saying . . . But a shrill beep from the PA
system cut him off: "Con. Sonar. Contact bearing 270 degrees. It's a
destroyer, sir, and it's coming right at us." Thrust keyed the mike.
"Stay calm, people. We've plenty of air cover. They can take care of
On board the aircraft carrier HMS Weak Somewhere near the Vulnerable
00.47hrs Zulu Time. Veteran pilot Jack Kill simply could not believe
what he was being told by the Weak's health and safety officer, Ron
Stapleford. "This is a Harrier GR7," he screamed. "What do you mean
by saying the wings don't look long enough?" "I'm just saying," said
Ron in his Brummie drawl, "that with all those bombs and missiles,
it really doesn't look very safe." "Look," said Kill. "We've just
got word from the Vulnerable that she's under attack. I have to get
out there with my cargo of death. I must spit fire into that enemy
ship or the war will be lost and your children will grow up speaking
Russian." "Don't worry," said Ron. "Ormskirk's on the Vulnerable.
He's a good man. He'll make sure they're safe."
On board the Vulnerable somewhere in the north Atlantic 00.55hrs
Zulu time The depth charges were raining down, sending the orange
sub reeling from side to side. Thrust was barking orders to the
helmsman: "Flood tubes one and four." "Sorry, sir," said the burly
helmsman. "New regulations from health and safety. After the Herald
of Free Enterprise disaster, the doors have been welded shut."
"Oh, for Christ's sake," yelled Thrust as yet another depth charge
hammered the hull. "Where's Ormskirk?"
He was in the galley, a look of abject horror on his face: "For
crying out loud. How many times do I have to tell you people that
you must not store meat and dairy products in the same fridge. Do
you want to have tummy ache?"
Before they could answer, an enormous explosion ripped the propeller
from its mountings and a wall of freezing sea water spurted into the
engine room. "Close all hatches," yelled Thrust over the PA system.
Oh no, thought Ormskirk. Some of the men have boyfriends back there.
They must be allowed to try to save them.
Back in the engine room, the trapped men were trying to open the
hatch to get out before the north Atlantic claimed yet another
teenage soul. Some were screaming. Some were praying. Some were
struggling with the latch. But each and every one breathed a sigh of
relief when the man from health and safety appeared at the window.
"Do you need counselling?" he said. "No," they shouted. "We want you
to open this hatch. It can only be done from the outside." "Yes,"
said Ormskirk, "that's a valid safety point and I'll be sure to file
a report when we get back." "Open the bloody thing," they shouted.
"I can't," said Ormskirk. "You know as well as I do that it's a
two-man job. I could crick my back if I tried to do it on my own."
But then he had an idea. He opened a secure channel to Thrust.
"Captain: there are men back here in water that's 4oC colder than we
recommend. I order you to surrender."
Gulag 43 Siberia, Russia - Three months later.
It was a grey, misty morning and silence hung over the prison yard
like an old dishcloth as Nigel Ormskirk was tied to the
"Ready," screamed the Russian execution party leader. "Take aim . .
"Hold on a minute," said Nigel. "You aren't allowed to use loaded
weapons unless there's a trained armourer on the . . ."