Forced Exercise - Excerpt
There was still considerable discontent on the second floor. Last year, an anonymous complaint about how uncomfortable the building was had led to it being censured in an official report and a series of improvement works being commissioned, at enormous cost. The fundamental problem was that the building was old, it having been built to the requirements of a previous generation, and changing it to the new standards was difficult. The complaint had focused on the gradient of the stairs, which, at sixty degrees, was ten degrees steeper than the legal requirement. In a phrase that had resonated in the civil court, the anonymous complainant had claimed that the slope amounted to 'forced exercise’, and that employees had been 'out of breath’ after climbing them, sometimes for several minutes.
The owners of the company had argued that despite the gradient being a technical breach of the law, the lifts, located at a convenient central location on each floor, meant that no employee had to use the stairs unless they wanted to. They even gave an estimate of the maximum amount of steps it would take to move from any desk in the building to the nearest lift.
These claims had been contested by the National Health and Safety Executive (in the absence of the complainant- another controversy), firstly, on a factual basis, by disputing the length of the footsteps used to make the calculation, on the basis that they represented the footsteps of a man six feet two inches tall, and were therefore unrepresentative of a typically foot, but more fundamentally, on the overall significance of stairs. The NHSE argued that not only should all parts of the building be 'fit for purpose’, in the words of the legislation, but also that there were circumstances in which employees would be forced to use the stairs, such as an emergency, in which it would be unreasonable for the distress of being out of breath to be added to the inherent trauma of the situation.