Barcodes, mistakes and managers

On Monday, when I go in to work, I’m expecting to be called up to the Manager’s office to have my ear bent. Why? Because I emptied a post box one minute early. The fact is that I didn’t empty it early but I can’t prove that.

Those postman like myself who empty the post boxes carry handheld bar code readers, and inside each box there is a barcode. Now the idea is that when we empty the box, we also zap the barcode. This records the time that we emptied the box. Simple. The reason we do this is so that Royal Mail can show PostComm, our regulator, that we are emptying all the boxes, and that we are not emptying them early. The scanner has a clock which shows up when we press the “scan” button.

Nothing too complicated there then.

Except when we make a mistake. If we accidentally scan the bar code before the scheduled collection time there is no easy way to correct the mistake. There is no “cancel” or “delete” button, and we cannot rescan the barcode. Once it’s scanned, that’s it. And it’s quite easy to make a mistake: we can be distracted by a member of the public talking to us; we could be in a hurry because it’s raining; we may not have noticed (or forgotten) that the clock on the reader is not correct. Or as happened to me today, I pressed the “scan” button to read the time, and it happened to be pointing straight at the barcode. And scanned it. One minute early. Oh bugger. But by the time I’d emptied the box, it was actually the scheduled time anyway. So I wasn’t really early, just that the I had zapped it early.

Through trial and error, we have discovered that after scanning a second barcode, it is possible to rescan the first barcode. And this second scan is the one which is reported. But as most of post boxes are quite spread out, it’s not possible to go to another box, scan and empty it and then go back and rescan the one we did incorrectly. But we could easily carry a spare barcode with us which would be purely used as an “ignore last scan” barcode. This would then allow us to rescan the barcode, and all would be right with the world.

But we don’t have a spare barcode. We’ve asked for one, but we’re were told we couldn’t have one. So instead the occasional mistake is made, a failure is recorded and a postman gets reprimanded for making a mistake. A mistake which could quite easily have been rectified at the time.

So now I’m looking forward to another a happy little chat with the boss.

4 Responses to “Barcodes, mistakes and managers”

  1. mousewords Says:

    I hope your ear doesn’t get bent after all; and if it does, I hope someone says something encouraging to smooth it back into place again. 🙂

  2. steaders Says:

    Update: Well I did have a little talk with the boss, and I managed to talk my way out of being reprimanded. I just said we should have equipment that could the job properly. So that was a good result

  3. normalslife Says:

    Wow. This is fascinating. I tried out for the US postal service and found that every single rule in the exam had to be followed to the letter. If they said, “don’t pick up your pencil,” they meant “do not touch the pencil. do not even look at the pencil.” It’s amazing. But it still sounds like a really cool job.

  4. normalslife Says:

    ha ha. “to the letter.” an accidental joke.

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