A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Paraphrasing Willie Nelson, “Picking up whiskey instead of my pen/I let the words of my youth slip away.” is a poetic way of saying I tipped a few in my time. I was never what you’d call a drunk, but back in the day, alcohol and I were pretty faithful companions. At one time or another, it transformed me into a brilliant conversationalist, a kickass dancer and a hopeless lover – sometimes all at the same time. However, the very best thing alcohol ever did for me was keep me humble by providing 1,001 opportunities to apologize. Like most people who can get past six drinks, it has been my experience that, despite what the advertisements tell you, fermented fluids make you stupid. However, never in my wildest weird days did I ever set off the idiot alarm quite as loudly as what recently happened in my country – and we did this cold sober!
Last week, an Ontario business, The Beer Company, was fined $218,000 for not explaining to a contracted employee that he should not, under any circumstances, drink windshield washer fluid. Uh? That’s right. Apparently, back in 2012, a couple of guys who were contracted to wash the outside (this is very important) of some Beer Company delivery trucks found a plastic bottle, labeled “Vodka” behind the seat on the inside of one of the trucks. Even though they had no business being there, they stole the bottle and drank some of the contents. Unfortunately, the bottle was full of windshield washer fluid. One of the guys, who must have thought, “Wait a minute! That’s not vodka!” quit drinking. The other, however, took the bottle home, and, over the next couple of days, proceeded to polish it off. Employee A went to the hospital, sick as a penguin; employee B died of methanol poisoning. The Ministry of Labour, ever mindful of worker health and welfare, charged The Beer Company with workplace safety violations. I’m not making this up: you can Google it. Their argument was that the contents of the bottle was poison and therefore should have been labelled as such. They went on to say that even though the workers had stolen the bottle (“unauthorized possession” was the term they used) the company was still negligent. The Beer Company, I’m sure, rather than waste time and money trying to reason with a Ministry who would even contemplate these kinds of charges simply thought WTF and paid the fine.
In my time, I’ve drunk everything from six hundred dollar a bottle Scotch to Aqua Velva and Orange Crush (plenty of kick, but not much bouquet.) However, I don’t even know anybody who ever got drunk enough to think this clown and pony show is reasonable. What’s wrong with this picture works on so many levels it’s almost impossible to deal with. It’s no wonder The Beer Company just handed over the cash.
First of all, when the Ministry of Labour reviewed this case, didn’t anybody notice that the guy had been drinking windshield washer fluid for at least two days? He didn’t just find the stuff, conscientiously note there was no skull and crossbones on the label, take a sip and keel over dead. He worked at it — really hard! Now, I’ve never tasted windshield washer fluid, but I don’t imagine it tastes anything like vodka. Why would you order a second round? Not only that, but why did he drink it in the first place? You find a mysterious fluid and your first thought is “Let’s do shots!”? I don’t think so. Besides, he was a cleaner. He must have known what cleaning supplies smell like — even if he’d never tasted any. And the rhetorical questions just keep on coming. Didn’t he notice his buddy was sick? Or his pee was blue? Or why didn’t some friend, acquaintance, wife or girlfriend casually mention that cocktail hour smelled like Windex? However, these are all moot points because he shouldn’t have even had the bottle of windshield washer fluid, in the first place. He stole it! Honestly, I can’t understand why The Beer Company (or anyone else for that matter) is responsible for the use or abuse of items that have been stolen from them. The logic of this escapes me. For example, someone steals my car and runs it into a telephone pole. Am I then negligent because I didn’t warn him that my vehicle goes really fast? Didn’t he experience that for himself while speeding away from the scene of the crime?
I have no idea what kind of nonlinear Cloud Cuckoo Land thinking caused the Ministry of Labour to charge The Beer Company with negligence. Our society needs to understand that sometimes no amount of due diligence can protect people from their own burning need to act like idiots. Trust me: I have considerable experience. The problem is I’m not certain just who we should hang the Darwin award on here: the guy with the sky-blue highball habit or the Ministry who decided his two-day windshield washer bender wasn’t actually his own damn fault.
Wednesday: If Thy Booze Offend Thee….