Mayhew, C and Quinlan, M. (2002) 'Fordism in the fast food industry: pervasive management control and occupational health and safety risks for young temporary workers', in Sociology of Health and Illness, Vol 24, No 3: 261 - 84.
[This is obviously a contribution to what seems to be a substantial literature on 'precarious employment'or 'contingent work' (there seems to be some sort of dispute between the people who use these different terms) and its heightened risks of 'injury, disease and psychological distress' (261). Occupational health in general is measured in a number of ways, including types of injury at work, but also knowledge of health and safety procedures and legislation. The central finding is that Fordism is actually quite good at reducing these risks, understandably so, since it features detailed regulation of work activities. Fast food itself may be less hazardous than, say, producing cars. There are injuries associated with work intensity and fatigue, but also procedures to guard against them. Not only that, the employees of an Australian 'well-known multinational fast food chain' seem to display quite a detailed knowledge of health and safety procedures, although they are hardly aware they have been taught them. The authors think this is because much of the health and safety work is contained in on the job training, and also because many of the employees are students or have just left school, and so are more disposed towards being trained.
It is not all good news, though. There still seems to be quite a high level of 'occupational violence' following encounters with customers: '48.4 per cent of those surveyed had been verbally abused, 7.6 per cent threatened, and one per cent assaulted on the job in the past 12 months' (272). There is a hint that sometimes this might arise from excessive Fordist techniques 'cutting service times too sharply or refusing special requests' (265). Employees seem largely unaware of employment rights, probably because fast food is not unionised (unlike the car industry, the classic location of Fordism and its association with collectivism). In other words, they learn the kind of health and safety that suits their employers. More generally, 'Ritzer (2000) and others have portrayed the Fordist regimes of fast food chains as integral to a system where workers are indoctrinated, class relations obfuscated and covert threats to continued employment used to undermine solidarity' (262). These factors are not tested, and not denied.. Among other facts that arise:
(1) 'In the USA and Australia, fast food employs more young workers than any other industry, most holding what are essentially temporary jobs' (263)
(2) Typically, precarious employment/contingent work is pretty unsafe, with fatality rates twice those of directly hired workers, and higher injury rates and health problems. This kind of work seems to be associated particularly with unsafe practices such as sub contracting, under bidding, long-hours or cutting corners on safety (266) .
(3) Younger workers are more at risk, perhaps because of their 'inexperience and inadequate training' in addition to their employment status (263) [which goes along with the work on injury rates among young bikers].
(4) Fordism is defined as 'the mass-production of standardised products using equally standardized and inflexible technologies (such as the assembly line), standardized work routines based on a Tayloristic minute division and deskilling tasks, and associated marketing design to homogenise consumption' (263). These are expressed in the fast food industry on matters such as '25 rules for frying' (264). The authors insist they are not the same as 'new work systems such as lean production' (267): Fordist systems have always been associated with good health and safety practices, since there is 'a belief that it is cheaper to avoid problems than to correct mistakes' (267). Close supervision which results is particularly helpful in increasing safety for young temporary employees.
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