Health and Safety

I thought I’d share this bit of fun I wrote at Holmfirth Writers last week. The theme was ‘health and safety’, so I tried to imagine the most difficult circumstances in which to be a Health and Safety officer. The piece takes the form of a dialogue between two former Chinese officials who now find themselves in the court of a certain Mongolian warlord ….


Wang Chu, may I speak with you?

Of course, Li Feng, it’s a pleasure to see you, and good to see another Chinese face. Who would have thought a year ago that you and I would find ourselves here? What strange times we live in.

And yet, we survive, despite everything. How wise was the decision to surrender rather than resist? We have seen with our own eyes the fate of those who chose to fight.

Indeed! And how extraordinary that we should both now be performing the same roles we fulfilled for the old emperor in the service of our new master. It is to his credit that he recognises the benefits of Chinese administration.

That brings me to the purpose of my visit. I am here to see you in your professional capacity.

Excellent! How may I help, Li Feng?

I have experienced a significant downturn in my job-satisfaction.

I’m sorry to hear that. Are you under-employed? Do you feel that you lack a role in the new administration, perhaps?

On the contrary, there is a great deal of work to be done. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the activities of the Mongol Horde present unprecedented Health and Safety challenges. And between you and me, Wang Chu, current practice leaves much to be desired. I recognised this at once on taking up this post, and threw myself energetically into research. Five weeks ago, I completed my 82 page report,  with 31 recommendations and an action plan to address them. Quite frankly, I feel it’s the best work I’ve ever done. It’s after completing the report that my job satisfaction has plummeted.

Did the Great Khan take issue with your report? Reject your findings?

Not exactly. He simply leafed through the pages in a rather cursory way and said “very good.”

Well, that’s a positive response, isn’t it? Surely he was endorsing your report?

Wang Chu, you know as well as I do that the Great Khan is illiterate. I offered to talk him through the main findings one by one, but he simply waved me away. I held out hopes that he would get someone to read it to him and summon me again, but I’ve heard nothing. And all the signs are that it has been completely ignored. I visited the site of the last siege. Ground covered in blood, dismembered limbs and heads everywhere. I was appalled. Think of the trip hazards! Not to mention the fire risk. Flammable materials, unprotected naked flames. Half the city was already on fire. And as for sharp object hazards, don’t get me started. I feel I’ve been wasting my time, Wang Chu, I really do. May I speak in confidence?

Of course! Nothing you say goes beyond this tent.

Between you and me, Wang Chu, [leans forward and whispers] I think the core of the problem is that … Ghengis Khan does not take Health and Safety very seriously.

Yes, Li Feng, I feel I understand your situation. But why not see this setback as a challenge. One you may yet overcome, with patience and persuasion. And it may help to compare your situation with that of those less fortunate.

Such as?

Such as myself. Unlike you, I really don’t have a proper job here. You are only my second client in seven months. The first was a captured general who was about to be impaled on a stake – I must admit, I struggled to bring out the positives in his situation. Otherwise – absolutely nothing. It seems that the Mongol Horde has no use for a wellness counsellor. 

pic: Mark Cartwright. Licensed under

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