Health and Safety was different back when I was 17. This was particularly true at McDonald’s, where there was almost a casual acceptance of pain and injury that would probably have the company sued into oblivion nowadays. For example, I vividly remember a new member of staff asking me if the Filet-O-Fish steamer would burn him, and without thinking replying “Probably”, because it had a habit of spraying steam and trying to parboil your hands when you dismantled it to clean it.
Scalds, burns and cuts were par for the course. I once sliced my knuckle open on the filter above the burger grill. Not realising, I washed my hands and then tried to dry them under the hand drier, thus spraying droplets of blood up the white tiled walls and causing a manager to yell at me.
Next to each of the four grills was a small freezer, about the size of a narrow dishwasher. At the end of each night they had to be unplugged, defrosted and sterilised, ready for the next day. To save time, as the evening wore on and the trade dropped off, it was customary to take one or two of the freezers out of service early (and in truth we only needed all four on a Saturday).
On the Saturday before my 18th birthday, I was doing just that. I reached behind one of the freezers, grabbed the plug and…well, the next thing I knew, I was twitching on the floor like a drowning fish. Somehow I knew that I had to let go of the plug and managed to do so. Apparently, I also screamed loudly enough for several people to come running, which meant that they all got a good look at me flapping about on the floor.
The cause of the problem? It was the days before rubber plugs were common. The freezer had been unplugged so often, and the ceramic or plastic (I forget which) plug had hit the tiled floor so often that a corner had broken off and, in reaching blind to pull the plug, I had grabbed the live wire.
I remember Ali Smith, the duty manager, taking me to the back of the store, sitting me down and giving me a drink. At which point the shock hit me, that I could easily not have been around for my 18th birthday and all of the celebrations that were planned for the following weekend.
The only long term effect, though, was that for a significant time afterwards I had a dull ache in a pair of very male items. Which, for over 21 years, let me to believe that I couldn’t have children. Fortunately, I was wrong.
Oh, and that casual acceptance of injury thing? Well, apparently my scream was heard by a customer, who asked what was going on. To which Andy Higham, who was serving them, replied “Oh, it’s just someone electrocuting themselves”.