In Warminster, Wiltshire, bin-men have, in the words of one national newspaper, "put two fingers up to common sense by issuing an astonishing warning to council-tax payers. 'If we can't pull your wheelie bin using just two fingers it is too heavy - and won't be emptied.'"
Bins that need three or more fingers, they claim, constitute a health and safety risk as they could fall from the lorry while being emptied.
Only days after it was reported that a 79-year-old woman had been told to drag a 360-litre wheelie bin more than half a mile down a steep hill if she wanted it emptied, Katie Shergold watched in disbelief as binmen stuck a 'too heavy to move' sticker on her bin of grass cuttings just 6ft from their lorry. Yet 5ft 4in Mrs Shergold had wheeled the bin round to the front of her house without any difficulty.
West Wiltshire District Council denied there was an official 'two-finger' policy but admitted its binmen used the test - putting one index finger in each of the bin's handles - to check the weight. It said heavy bins posed a safety threat as they could break the collection truck's hydraulic lifting system, or topple off while they were being emptied, potentially injuring one of the collectors.
Mrs. Shergold said "I was astonished - I had been able to wheel it out there in the first place very easily. If I could move it by myself, these guys certainly could. These were big men and it was only 6ft from their lorry and contained nothing but grass, but they just left it there on the pavement. I phoned the council to tell them what had happened, but instead of apologising they told me it was normal for binmen to leave bins they couldn't pull with two fingers".
Nicole Smith, spokesman for West Wiltshire District Council, said: "Focsa, our waste contractors, are unable to empty wheeled bins that are too heavy, due to the safety risk of the bin falling from the vehicle's lifting gear during emptying. "'If, at any time, a bin is considered by the operatives to be overloaded, a sticker will be placed on the lid letting the householder know that they have been unable to take the bin. "If any resident has had a 'heavy' sticker left on the bin then they will be required to remove some of the contents for it to be emptied."
Several points come to mind about this ridiculous case. In the first place, West Wiltshire District Council presumably provided the bins for the use of their residents. If the bins are too big, that's their fault and they should take responsibility for finding a solution. To say "here, have this bin but don't use it to the full" is absurd.
The 'elf'n'safety theory put forward by the council is obviously a lame excuse. If the lorries and their equipment aren't up to the job, the waste contractors have bought the wrong ones.
Similarly, if the waste contractors themselves aren't up to the job, then West Wiltshire have awarded the contract to the wrong people, and should put it out to tender again. I'm sure there are gangs of Polish workmen who'd be glad of the opportunity.
The fact is, of course, that the waste contractors and the council are worried about the possibility of bin-men hurting themselves at work and claiming compensation. This sort of blatant abnegation of responsibility towards the public they are paid to serve will only continue and spread - until the first resident sues the council because he has hurt his back lugging around an enormous bin the council haven't emptied.
The GOS says: I'd be interested to know whether I'm entitled to claim money from the council for providing a place to store my bins - after all, they don't belong to me and I didn't ask for them, and I've had to find space for them in my garden and lay some flagstones to stand them on - and at the age of 65, laying flagstones is a risk to my back. Have the council thought of that?
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