Sprawl-Busters received word this week from one of our sources that Home Depot has made a major cutback in its store safety program. In past years, we have criticized the world’s largest home improvement retailer for providing a dangerous shopping environment for its customers because of its “warehouse over your head” store design. Falling merchandise has killed or injured Home Depot customers. Roughly five years ago the public exposure of this issue became so pronounced, that Home Depot stopped stocking its sky shelving with forklifts while customers were in the store. But our sources say now that the media focus on Home Deport injuries has dropped, the retailer is dropping the staff who were assigned to keep stores safe. “You should know,” our source writes, “that Home Depot completely eliminated all 200 field safety manager positions that had been created in 2001 after a long series of fatalities and serious injuries. Safety is now again an afterthought for the Loss Prevention managers who have no safety background and whose primary job is catching shoplifters, not protecting customers and enforcing safety rules. Approximately 200 district and field safety manager positions were eliminated. Their job was 100% environmental and safety. In the restructuring, Home Depot reverted to the organization it had prior to 2002, in which safety and Loss Prevention (catching thieves, doing inventories) were combined into a single district and regional position. It failed back then and the fatalities and injuries led to the media coverage that forced the formation of a separate safety group. One person now doing two unrelated jobs cuts attention to safety and environment. The people generally from loss prevention have no safety background. Most of the best safety people are gone already. Only the Atlanta central safety group remains.” According to the spin put on this story by Home Depot, the company reorg puts loss prevention and safety “under one roof” and creates a new director for environmental programs in California. This move appears to be a direct response to media stories recently that state officials in California are investigating Home Depot as the result of an incident in Marina del Rey in which mislabeled containers of spilled products caused a loading dock fire. In the decade between 1994 and 2004, Home Depot was involved in five chemical fires at their stores. Home Depot told the media the new combined LP and safety positions “enhance our environmental and safety programs and drive shrink reduction,” which refers to shop-lifting. The two areas seemingly have no skills connection at all. Home Depot admits it has terminated the regional and district safety managers and loss prevention manager positions, creating a new job called “asset protection manager.” But critics say this new cutback in store safety personnel threatens Home Depot’s most important asset: its customers and its own workers.
“Taking care of our people is an important value at The Home Depot,”
said the company’s memo to its workers. “As with past organizational changes, associates not placed in these new roles will have the opportunity to apply for other positions within The Home Depot.” Home Depot began hiring safety officer in 2001 after two people died when merchandise fell off shelves at stores in Twin Falls, Idaho, and Santa Monica, Calif. There was another death in Connecticut. For earlier stories about chemical fires, search Newsflash by “hazardous.” For stories about customer injuries, search by “falling.”