EDITOR: In the past in the grocery environment, slips and falls were the number one cause of customer injury, predominantly in the produce area.
CHRISTMAN: For most all grocery retailers, the prevalence of customer slips and falls is very high. However, we don't see the highest percentage in the produce departments anymore.
EDITOR: Why is that?
CHRISTMAN: For a couple of reasons. We have been more proactive with proper flooring and the strategic use of rugs in select areas such as where we use sprayers or have ice cases. Plus, the way we've changed how we merchandise certain items has helped. Take grapes for instance. Grapes come packaged in a plastic bag so that they are no longer loose to fall on the floor. By being more proactive, we are actually seeing slips and falls in produce declining.
EDITOR: Many food retailers conduct safety inspections or audits on a routine basis. Do you have similar programs that impact accident prevention?
CHRISTMAN: Absolutely. I have a team that a big part of their function is doing physical audits of stores. The audits encompass taking a look at the entire physical property of the store, both outside and inside. In addition they look for compliance with OSHA regulations as well as established policies and procedures. But in the midst of doing the audit, they also take the opportunity to walk the store with the manager. They coach department associates. This is an opportunity to gain insight as to whether or not people are comfortable with procedures and the personal protective items that we ask them to wear, such as cut-resistant gloves.
EDITOR: Do the stores have safety teams?
CHRISTMAN: Each store has a member of the salaried management team who is designated as the safety promoter or safety coach and is responsible for safety in the store. They also lead the safety committee, which is comprised of both management and hourly associates representing all the major departments in the store. The safety committee meets on a monthly basis to discuss any incidents that have occurred, any physical hazards that need to be repaired, and review the training information we send out monthly in what we call a "Skill Builder." In addition to the committee, each department manager is accountable for safety in their department and is required to perform a monthly safety audit.
EDITOR: And are any of those monthly activities reported up to your office or some of your people to ensure that those things are actually happening?
CHRISTMAN: Yes, but because of the sheer number of stores across the divisions, we can't look at all of them every month. Safety specialists look at the reports when they visit a store, and we certainly conduct random spot-checking as well. Of course, if certain stores have more incidents or claims, they're going to get more scrutiny.
EDITOR: You mentioned a term that sometimes brings fear to store managers—OSHA. While OSHA has been around a number of years, it appears that they have become more aggressive with retailers in the last few years.
CHRISTMAN: I think across the board OSHA has become much more focused on inspections and citations for employers. I don't think it's necessarily related just to retail or grocery. It's really across all industries. In my conversations with other grocery retailers through our FMI [Food Marketing Institute] risk, insurance, and safety group, the consensus is that everybody has seen OSHA more frequently over the last eighteen to twenty-four months. I can say for a fact that we've spent a lot of time dealing with OSHA on sometimes what are nuisance issues that may or may not be based on fact. We have to do an internal investigation to identify whether or not we've done anything wrong and whether or not we need to remediate an issue. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to take our focus away from trying to be proactive, which is really where we want to be.