Still No Exit

September 23rd, 2004 by

Back in January we posted a blog about Walmart locking night shift employees in the building, ostensibly for their own safety. Now we read that a Winn Dixie supermarket in Mobile, Alabama, has been cited by OSHA for a similar activity. So far we have not had the benefit of a management explanation of this bizarre practice, but regardless of the rhetoric, it should be fairly obvious that locking employees (or contractors) in a building is a dangerous practice. In the Walmart situation, an employee with a crushed ankle had to wait hours for medical treatment – he could not get out and the paramedics could not get in.
In the Winn Dixie supermarket, there was no precipitating incident. Someone probably “dropped a dime” (actually, at least a quarter by current pay phone standards). OSHA finds that the absence of exits is a “willful disregard” of safety standards by the employer. They have proposed a fine of $74,000 — in the supermarket business, that’s a lot of bananas. In the usual course of an OSHA citation, the final amount is likely to be negotiated downward, pending corrective actions taken by the employer.
We are left to wonder at the thinking behind the “no exit” strategy. To be sure, it probably minimizes inventory shrinkage (otherwise known as “employee theft”). But at what cost? Employers who block exits do indeed demonstrate a “willful disregard” for the safety of their employees. These employers incur significant liabilities by placing their employees and contractors directly in harm’s way. While the goal of preventing theft is understandable, it must be achieved without putting people’s lives at risk.