We Don’t Care; It’s Your Fault

I may have mentioned that safety is one of our “Core Principles” at Ralph’s. We all have to sign an oath that we are  committed to 200% safety, own own and the other person’s. As far as I can see, the only flaw in the plan is that the store itself isn’t a party to the agreement.

The most recent innovation is the introduction of “safety shoes”. These are not real shoes. My mother’s elderly uncle (and most other people) would have called these things “rubbers” in the days before every word had some relationship to sex. They are black pseudo-rubber and pull up over your own shoes, more or less covering the bottom and sides. The idea is to keep people from sliding on the floors in all areas working with fresh food.

You may recall that I am technically part of the deli, although I spend 10 minutes or less each day in the deli itself. Nonetheless, I must wear safety shoes. I’ve heard that these items were chosen specifically for their ability to walk on wet and oily surfaces.

I can assure you they were not chosen for climbing on ladders. The first day I had them on, I climbed a step-ladder to get an item for a customer from the back of a top shelf. I have done this same thing many times. Make sure the ladder is anchored correctly, step to the proper level, reach forward, grab the item, and give it to the customer (yes, we have procedures for everything).

The first three steps went fine. I turned to face the customer and slid off the ladder. Too bad my kids are too old to appreciate the amazing bruise I got from the shelf that my arm caught on the way off the ladder. I did not make the connection that tight hold would not translate to flexible footwear.

Even more embarrassing was when the shoe caught on the floor of the cooler while I was opening the door. The door moved, I did not, and my face met the door. Management had told me that the one place I worked that absolutely required the shoes was the cooler. I am guessing that no one considered that a room full of cardboard boxes would not be particularly slippery. Luckily no one saw me that time.

After the ladder incident, my team leader asked if I wanted to file an incident report. I assured her it wasn’t necessary. In the first place, I wasn’t really injured. In the second place, it would have triggered the much dreaded “safety violation”. The stores all aim to be accident-free; it looks bad on the company’s public record if employees are continually being injured at work.

A year or so ago, I sprained my bicepal tendon. It was caused by a sudden impact to a repetitive motion injury (RMI). I had tried to pull a cart out of an overcrowded cooler (not my own) and twisted wrong. The amount of paperwork was overwhelming, and I had to watch a 45-minute safety video before I could go to urgent care (hopefully the order would have been different if there had been blood or protruding bones).

I was supposed to be written up for a safety violation. I had pulled the cart rather than pushed it and jerked it to get it free (it was wedged in such a way that I had no choice).The only thing that saved me was that it aggravated an RMI. I had to wear a sling and go to physical therapy for several weeks.

My manager didn’t talk to me for a week. The only reason he forgave me was because I didn’t miss any time. Lost-time accidents accidents are many times worse than regular accidents; apparently they go on the store director’s permanent record (like some high school behavior). I guess he was somehow responsible for the warehouse sending too much stuff and the planners somehow putting in too few coolers. The same as I was responsible for trying to work quickly in that environment.

For some odd reason, they put the beer and wine sections right outside the doors to the back room. And my cooler immediately inside those doors. And a major food-stocking vendor across from me. And the baler and receiving in the same section. And aisles barely wide enough to let two carts go by each other. I guess no one realized that a lot people would need to go in and out the swinging doors at approximately the same time.

I don’t know whether you are familiar with that type of door. They have a small (2′ x 3′??) plexiglass window that somehow becomes almost immediately scarred. I have never seen anyone actually touch the window. They swing in both directions. Our informal rule is that whoever has the heaviest load gets to go through first.

The rule would work well if you could actually see whether someone was on the other side of the door. From my front-row seat seat (which usually puts me in the way while loading and unloading carts), I have seen that we all find a way to avoid a major collision. Fear of paperwork and disciplinary suspension are as much to credit as 200% safety.

We had an update meeting recently. Management was excited to tell us that the company has decided that some accidents may not actually be the employees’ fault. They did not explain what such a circumstance would be.

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