Health and safety rules are taking the service out of service stations, by banning staff from performing rudimentary tasks, such as checking customers cars' water levels.

Howick man Calvyn Jonker contacted the Herald after being "appalled" by the attitude of staff at one BP station, who refused to check the water level of a woman's car in case they were burned.

Mr Jonker was in the queue at the BP Connect station in Ridgeway St, when he heard the appeal for help.

"He [the employee] just replied, 'We don't do water'.

"She repeated her request in disbelief, only to be given the same answer."

Mr Jonker finally helped the woman, before returning to remonstrate with the staff member, who informed him of the no-help policy.

"So, what we have is a garage that only sells fuel, and does not offer any other mechanical help - however minor," Mr Jonker said.

A check with the manager of the offending service station confirmed staff were banned from performing such tasks under OSH regulations.

"If you do have a car, you are supposed to check it yourself."

BP spokeswoman Diana Stretch yesterday confirmed checking water levels was a no-go zone for service station staff - along with checking tyre pressure.

"OSH regulations state that we are required to do an assessment of hazards and take steps to mitigate those hazards.

"In those assessments BP has identified that checking of water in radiators, changing tyres and filling tyres with air are all potential hazards to our staff."

In the event of a customer turning up with a flat tyre or "mechanical issue", staff would be happy to "assist the customer to contact their breakdown company, a tow truck or make other arrangements", she said.

Staff are also able to check oil levels.

Greenstone Energy (formerly Shell) spokesman Jonathan Hill said service station employees were free to help with a tyre, or check oil levels, but were urged to "err on the side of caution" when it came to radiator caps.

"Taking a cap off a hot engine can be particularly dangerous, something that should be undertaken by a mechanic." Employees could attempt to remove a water cap if they were sure it was safe, otherwise, they were to consider "safety before anything else".

AA spokesman Mike Noon was not surprised to hear of the companies' reluctance to have workers check water levels - given the potential for rapid depressurisation - but could not see much problem with workers helping out with a flat tyre or oil check.

In the past, most service stations had a garage attached, with a mechanic who was able to help with minor mechanical problems, he said.

Nowadays, customers wanted service stations to be able to provide groceries, remain open 24-hours and keep fuel prices low. All that came at a price, usually in the form of reduced service, Mr Noon said.


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*This article initially incorrectly said that BP staff were unable to check oil levels for customers. BP says its staff are happy to check oil.