Woolworths and Coles have employees at the entrance of their stores offering to pour sanitiser into customer’s hands but in doing so are putting lives at risk by breaching social distancing laws almost 4 million times per day which equals 28 million times a week. I first noticed this about 2 weeks ago and it is crazy and gross incompetence by management.
I believe the estimate of almost 4 million times a day is conservative. If you allow for 3 people per minute it would be 180 people per hour times at least the 12 hours per day that they are open which gives 2,160 times per day per store. Woolworths has 995 supermarkets and Coles has 807 supermarkets giving a total of 1802 supermarkets.
Times the 1802 supermarkets by the 2,160 per store a day equals 3,892,320 times a day across all stores that social distancing laws are being breached.
The Woolworths and Coles employees pouring the sanitiser are putting themselves at risk of catching the Coronavirus and if they catch it they are then putting thousands of customers at risk of catching it from them.
Only 10 days ago it was reported that 2 Coles and 2 Kmart workers were infected with the Coronavirus. I was expecting Woolworths (Coolangatta store) to fix the issue as it was an obvious problem, but they never did so I raised the problem with Woolworths management twice.
The first time was Thursday the 2nd of April 2020 and I approached the employee pouring sanitiser into customers hands who was a junior female employee. I pointed out that what she was doing to help customers was also breaching social distancing laws which put her health and the customer’s health at risk. She told me she was only doing what management told her. So, I went to the customer service counter and told them about the problem and the lady behind the counter said the female junior shouldn’t be doing that and she went over to the female junior and had it stopped. The female junior then started sanitising trolly handles.
The following day, 3rd of April 2020, the same Woolworths store (Coolangatta) had another older female employee at the entrance pouring sanitiser into customers hands. As I was leaving the store, I saw the lady from the customer service counter I had seen the day before near the entrance. I said to both of them that the social distancing laws were being breached but I was quickly confronted by store security in a threatening and harassing manner who said I was being a nuisance and to leave as per the below video. At the same time, the employee stopped pouring sanitiser into customers hands and she put the sanitiser on a table next to her and allowed customers to do it themselves which is how it should have been done in the first place. Whether the Coolangatta store has stopped on a permanent basis I did not know but other stores are continuing to breach social distancing laws.
I told the security person I would post the video on social media after he pushed my mobile phone and was quite abusive telling me to go shop at Coles and Aldi. I put the above video on Facebook and Twitter last Friday and Woolworths staff at Coolangatta found the video on Facebook within the hour and were quite abusive in the comments they posted.
Woolworths employees complain if they are abused doing their job at the supermarket, and so they should, but they are happy to abuse someone making a legitimate complaint and warning others about a health and safety issue that could save lives. (Click here to see the Facebook post and their comments)
The point about the abusive comments is that there are still plenty of people who are not concerned about the Coronavirus, which includes some staff at supermarkets, and are not concerned about social distancing. So don’t make the mistake of breaching the social distancing laws and putting your hand out for sanitiser if approached by store staff because it is likely hundreds of others would have done so before you and it would be a hotspot to possibly catch the virus. You can see by the photos that people do make the mistake. The sanitiser should be left of a table and with staff monitoring it to make sure customers do not get to close together.
The lady in the above picture would likely be close to or in the age bracket that is most vulnerable to having severe symptoms if she catches the virus and she is having sanitiser poured into her hand while breaching the 1.5meter rule putting her at risk. During my investigation, I saw that happen regularly.
Staff and customers are not breaking the social distance laws in some vindictive manner. It is because they are finding old habits hard to break but they need to break the old habits fast.
I’m a journalist and I had been aware of the issue for almost 2 weeks and I realized it was a story that had to be told to warn the public because it was not some one-off breach of social distancing laws and it was easy to crunch the numbers and realise that was actually happening thousands of times a day in each supermarket. So I visited 3 Woolworths stores and 2 Coles stores over the last week to see if it was happening at other stores as well and it is. I also visited 2 Aldi stores but they did not have any sanitiser at the front that I could see. Whether it is happening at all stores across the country I do not know but I think it is safer to assume it is as a sign at Woolworths advises customers to use sanitiser before shopping which suggests all stores offer it.
Woolworths and Coles have signs, stickers and tape everywhere trying to make sure that customers do not breach social distancing laws and have done so for at least 2 weeks if not longer so they know the law yet for some reason they are breaching it at the front entrance of their stores.
It has been widely reported that 50% of people who have the Coronavirus do not have symptoms so it would be easy for a staff member, who was infected but had no symptoms, to stand at the store entrance handing out the sanitiser to infect dozens or hundreds of customers. Also, staff members who were virus-free would have to be a big chance of catching the virus if they have hundreds of customers coming close to them daily breaching the 1.5-meter rule.
It is not the staff members who are ultimately at fault here, although they should know better as everyone in the country now knows the 1.5m social distancing law. It is management at Coles and Woolworths who have been trying to protect customers but in this particular situation, they have failed badly.
There are already hotspots around the country where the virus has spread in greater numbers than everywhere else and the supermarkets who are breaching social distancing laws thousands of times a day at the stores’ entrance are prime candidates to become hotspots in the future. Not only will the store potentially become a hotspot but so will the surrounding suburbs.
Australia has been luckier than a lot of overseas countries as the Coronavirus crises is not as bad and the way to make sure it does not become as bad is to constantly practice and stay aware of our obligations in abiding by the social distancing laws.
Woolworths management knows about the issue as I raised with them twice and a couple of them trolled me on Facebook. I also know the duty manager/store manager at Woolworths Coolangatta is aware because she is in the video at the 34second mark at the top right-hand corner with blond hair wearing a red and white floral blouse looking straight at me.
But given this is also happening at Coles and other Woolworths stores it is really the CEO’s responsibility to take action immediately.
This article is not about encouraging people to abuse staff. It is to make people aware so they can take the proper precautions. My suggestion is if it is happening at your local Woolworths or Coles to email them and go to their social media pages and notify them.
You can email Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci at: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com And email Coles CEO Steven Cain at: firstname.lastname@example.org and their CFO at email@example.com
The more people who email them the more likely they are to fix the problem because of your emails are documented which can be used against them later if they don’t act like the class action against the Ruby Princess.
As consumers, my advice is to not go into the shops thinking they are doing everything like they should when it comes to social distancing laws etc. While in the past I rarely shopped at Aldi they seem to be doing a better job of not endangering customers and that might be because they are a global company with stores across the world including hotspots where thousands of people are dying such as Spain, Italy and Great Britain.
You might think this issue doesn’t concern you, but it concerns everyone because if your local supermarket spreads the Coronavirus then it could spread quickly through your local neighbourhood. While Australia is doing well in comparison to other countries it is not disputed that when the current restrictions are lifted, because they can’t go on forever, more people will contract the virus unless there is a cure which could be 18 months away if ever.
The rate of increase in new coronavirus cases is decreasing but the number of cases where the source unknown is increasing and I think supermarkets are a place that could be an issue in the future, if they aren’t already, if they don’t improve the way they are doing things as per the above.
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