At the Shell outlet on SB Road in Pune, the nine hour shift from 2.30pm is special. With a smile on their face, the staff coordinate and communicate through signs. The workflow is smooth with vehicle-by-vehicle refills without the usual chatter one hears at a gas station. This is the “silent shift”.

The post-lunch shift at the outlet is staffed by specially qualified staff who cater to customers’ needs through sign language. From technician to air meter operator, every employee is well trained and performs duties with utmost sincerity. The most striking element is that silent shift workers are paid the same as their regular shift counterparts.

Vijay Alagad, an employee of the silent shift, signals a customer to get off the bike to refill the fuel. A customer who is used to refilling while sitting on the bike, doesn’t understand their sign. Algade, with a smile on his face, points to the board stating that it is necessary to get off the bike while reloading for safety reasons. Customer obliges.

“I love working here. This is an amazing opportunity for me and I never expected that I would be able to work in such a field,” Algade relays to The Indian Express through a senior manager who works as a sign language interpreter.

The manager, as well as other members of the staff, are trained in sign language.

Every day at 2:30pm the employees are briefed and trained via explanatory videos to prepare them for the daily work and any emergency situation. “We brief the staff daily and tell them at once that they are doing very well. They are very meticulous and work better than the regular shift members,” says Sudhanchal P, outlet manager.

For the smooth operation of the system, workers are given an order-taking pad where customers can jot down the amount of fuel as needed. A whistle is given to each employee. In the event that the customer is unable to understand or communicate, the employee whistles once to signal to the manager to provide assistance. In an emergency, employees are required to whistle three times.

The first two or three months were difficult. There were mistakes anyone could make. Now 80 percent of the time we have no problem with customers. “If there is ever a problem, the whistle alerts us,” says Sudhanchal.

Customers all praise this initiative. “The service during the silent shift is excellent. Sign language can sometimes be difficult to understand but there are other staff members to help,” says one of the outlet’s regular customers.

At the moment, the outlet has 12 employees with different abilities. The eldest are Kiran and Vijay.

“They started as air gauge operators in 2020 but they wanted to work like everyone else and wanted to take on more responsibility. We started training them in different areas and saw them grow. We adapted accordingly and prepared ourselves to work with them.” says Biswa Bhushan Magi, the outlet’s retailer. At present, Kiran is a technician and takes care of Vijay in the four wheeler packing area.

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As for the silent shift for women, it was scheduled for the morning hours, while the men’s work began in the evening.

Khokan M., an employee who works a regular shift, says they also learned sign language. “With practice and over time we have developed an understanding. We never have a problem communicating or working together.” As the number of members with special abilities grew, the retailer, manager, and supervisor were able to learn sign language. A training session is conducted once a month where professionals are called upon to deliver teaching sessions.

There are sign boards instructing customers on the do’s and don’ts of the outlet. “There are no issues. They treat us with respect and the work is the same as any other shift. It’s so recognizing how hard they work. They should be given more equal opportunities,” notes Chitrali Pujari, a customer who visits the outlet twice a week.


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