Fordism in the fast food industry: pervasive management control and occupational health and safety risks for young temporary workers.

Mayhew, Claire and Quinlan, Michael (2002) Fordism in the fast food industry: pervasive management control and occupational health and safety risks for young temporary workers. Sociology of Health & Illness, 24 (3) . pp. 261-284. ISSN 0141-9889 [Article] (doi:10.1111/1467-9566.00294)


A growing body of international research points to an association between precarious employment or contingent work arrangements and a higher incidence of injury, disease and psychological distress as well as inferior knowledge/compliance with occupational health and safety (OHS) standards. Despite this, published research on the OHS problems of young workers in hospitality and other service industries largely ignores the fact that many are engaged on a temporary basis. To address this gap we surveyed 304 young temporary workers employed in Australian outlets of a well-known multinational fast food chain. Indices assessed included work-related injuries, exposure to occupational violence, and knowledge of OHS practices and legislative rights. In trying to explain the adverse OHS outcomes associated with contingent work, researchers have repeatedly identified three sets of factors; economic and reward pressures, work disorganisation and regulatory failure. Like most other multinational fast food companies, this firm adopted a Fordist production system. Given suggestions that Fordist systems adversely affect worker health and wellbeing, it seemed plausible that the combination of Fordism with reliance on a young casualised workforce would result in markedly inferior OHS outcomes. Contrary to this expectation, workers surveyed had an incidence of injury around the norm for full-time permanent workers, and an excellent knowledge of risk control measures and OHS legislation. On the other hand, they had limited knowledge of their workers’ compensation entitlements and faced an elevated risk of low-level occupational violence.

Far from exacerbating the situation, the primary reason for the positive injury and knowledge outcomes was the Fordist system that tightly specified tasks and incorporated detailed risk assessment and control procedures. This system was shaped by an overriding concern for the company’s bottom line (hence the worker’s poor knowledge of worker’s compensation – a result more typical of contingent workers) but pervasive controls had benefits for an otherwise vulnerable workforce. 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. Without denying this, these systems may still constitute a less hazardous working environment for temporary workers than more disorganised work settings. Further research is needed to determine whether the study findings can be generalised or are restricted to this chain or its Australian outlets.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > Business School
ISI Impact: 15
Item ID: 7145
Depositing User: Devika Mohan
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2011 06:51
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2016 14:22

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