December 24th, 2010

QuillOrange

The Sky is Falling

Have you seen one of these signs? Do they litter the sidewalks of every major city nowadays? Working in the Loop, I navigate around these things five days a week. After some time spent pondering the matter, and after soliciting the input of a few coworkers, I’ve come to a conclusion: These signs are completely pointless. And in fact, they do more harm than good. Bear with me —

I can date their widespread appearance in Chicago back to the mid-1990s. It was around then that some poor soul was killed when a chunk of ice came loose from high up on one of our big buildings and fell right on the dude’s head. Sad. Scary. There but for the grace of God, etc.

How are these signs supposed to work? If a chunk of ice falls off a skyscraper, it is going to quickly plummet earthward, and it’s going to hit what it hits. It will not herald its own arrival by yelling “Look out below!” or even “Hey, read the little sign on the sidewalk, look up, and calculate where you need to move to avoid being hit by me!” Based on my observations, nobody at all is walking down the sidewalks of the Loop and casting their gaze fearfully upward when they see one of these signs. Once again, that’s Nobody. At. All.

“Well they’re better than nothing,” one of my coworkers opined. I must disagree. They are in fact worse than nothing. Let me put it this way: How many lives do you suppose these signs have saved over the years? I’m going to estimate… oh, let’s say… zero. Okay, but how many serious injuries have they saved? Same number, I’ll hazard. How many injuries of any kind have they saved? You get the idea.

Yet if anything, these signs seem to become more numerous with each passing year. What’s going on here? I figure it’s got to be a matter of legal liability. Or if not that, then pathetic public relations. So that if/when the next unlucky schmuck gets whacked by that deadly duo of Sinister Mr. Snowball and Mean Old Mr. Gravity, the folks from the building can look down sadly and say, “Well, that’s why we put those signs out there… but witnesses tell us he didn’t heed them… hey, we can’t force people to take sensible precautions…”

Meanwhile, given how numerous these signs have become and how much space they take up on the crowded sidewalks of the Loop, I have to believe that various people have sustained injuries from tripping over the damn things. Given the apparent noble intent implied by the placement of these signs, the building managers are probably immune from prosecution (or even bad publicity) over such mishaps.

Understand, I’m not arguing against safety precautions; not at all. I’m all for them. The problem is, these signs aren’t safety precautions; they’re something else. Lawsuit precautions at best.
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