Have you ever picked a “bad cart” at the grocery store? It’s just a little swervy when you get it from the corral, but you figure you can manage it. However, once you’ve loaded it with a couple of bags of water softener salt, it steers itself in circles. I confess, I once wore some “cute” boots (“cute”=heels, with no tread) to the grocery store in the winter, only to get stuck in the parking lot. My boots didn’t have enough traction to allow me to budge the cart from the slush it was stuck in. I’m a pretty independent person, and not generally so fashion-conscious as to forsake function for form. It was very humiliating for me to ask for help. (Lesson learned.)
I don’t think any of us are likely to suffer an injury as a result of a grocery expedition, but a bad cart can help us build an appreciation for the work done by the “kids” (oh, my, I sound old!) who are hired by groceries and department stores to round up all the shopping carts. (I know they are not all “kids”, but this task does seem to be assigned to the lowest seniority worker. I’m not sure if that’s a function of the heavy demands, or the lousy Canadian weather. I do suspect that, if a store manager is looking for “volunteers” to round up the carts, s/he is likely going to have the most success with someone who might be looking for “exercise”.)
We have never done an assessment of the pushing required to move a row of carts into the store, but I imagine that the force required to get a row of carts moving could easily exceed ergo guidelines. And the harder it is to start, the harder it is to stop, making control of the row that much more difficult (and hazardous).
Proactive retailers are using new pushers, designed specifically for pushing or pulling carts. Have you seen them? Karen took the photo shown above while she was out and about. BRILLIANT!
I spent a few minutes, tracking down some similar devices. Here are a few links:
The marketing material for these devices intrigued me…the manufacturers focus on labour savings (because the device makes the task faster), and liability issues (preventing carts from hitting parked cars, primarily). Some of them talked about employee turnover, suggesting that these employees, out in the rain and the ice, probably thought of nothing else but where they could get a better job! I was surprised that they rarely mentioned injuries. While I think the manufacturers may be missing a key marketing point, I also think that we, as ergonomists, often undervalue our contributions to labour, liability, and employee turnover. Wouldn’t it be clever if manufacturers marketed other “ergo” aids, such as lift tables, lumbar support, power tools, and sit/stand desks as “labour saving” and “quality enhancing”?