Thursday, 18 February 2010

Expressing milk: the hidden dangers!

Two days back at work and I am called into HR to discuss the "health and safety issues" arising from me keeping a steriliser, breastpump and expressed milk in the company kitchen. Now, if you are a Daily-Mail-type, you may hear the words "health and safety" and immediately think of "political correctness gone mad", a world in which the insane lefties won't let us do anything, dammit. I am not a Daily-Mail-type (and am quite unsure of my use of hyphens here, but that's another matter). I think, rather more boringly, that "health and safety issues" are sometimes valid concerns, and, more rarely, concerns invented to promote a particular agenda, which could be left-wing, right-wing or neither. Even more boringly, I think in this case it's a mixture of the valid and invalid which I won't ever be able to disentangle forcefully enough to make anyone change their mind. And so, on to the issues:
  • The bottle steriliser could get hot and people could burn themselves. Fine, I will put a label on it saying it might be hot.
  • The steriliser takes up space on the worktop. Fine, I will put it in the cupboard when it's not in use. I only later discover it is too big for the cupboard, meaning I need to dismantle it each time and hence stop it being in any sense sterile. But I say nothing. God forbid I disturb the wide expanse of space for cooking ready meals and making instant coffee with the Hadron Collider that is an Avent steam steriliser.
  • People open and shut the fridge, so it might not stay cold enough for the milk. Fine, is there anywhere else I could put it? No? Well, I'll put it at the bottom in the back. You want me to put it in a coolbag too? I say yes and only work out later that this doesn't actually make any sense, given that the milk will be body temperature when I put it in said insulated bag (physics not being my strong point). But I do nothing, put extra cool blocks in the coolbag itself to make it more like the fridge I was keeping things in in the first place.
  • Older people in the company are not as "baby-orientated" and don't know what these things are. Okay... It's at this point I'm not so sure what to say. I don't feel particularly "baby-orientated" at work either. I'm just ensuring my son doesn't have to have formula milk. I make some totally irrelevant reference to the fact that I got "into" expressing (like it's some kind of wacky craze) when my son was seriously ill as a small baby, and just thought I'd carry on. Random emotional blackmail, which I shouldn't have to use, somehow seems to work.

For the rest of the day, I don't think anything about this. Then the next day I find myself feeling increasingly uncomfortable about something I felt fine about before. It gradually comes back to me, in bits and bobs of conversation, that the equipment's appearance in the kitchen has been discussed at meetings, along with certain complaints that this place "isn't a crĂȘche" (the man who tells me this also tells me that his wife breastfeeds, which he thinks is "good, I suppose, I won't stop her, it's her choice" - I suppose this is a good thing to say, overall...). It seems to me that while some of the health and safety "advice" is fine - I don't want anyone to get burnt - much of it seems less about safety and more about decreasing visibility, more about ensuring that, in a company of hundreds, where most employees are women, where many women return to work before their babies turn one, we keep it as well-hidden as possible that only one of their number has a child who's still fully breastfed.

It makes me want to get to work pumping at the desk, there and then. But I don't. The colleague across from me asks what the meeting yesterday was about. "Health and safety", I say. "It's political correctness gone mad."

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