When someone takes a job in the retail industry, they're probably not thinking about the on-the-job dangers they could face. Unlike law enforcement, construction, or truck driving, most people don’t consider working in a store as a dangerous profession. And while it’s true that the risks are lower in retail work than in some other industries, retail workers do face hazards on a daily basis.
The rate of injury and illness in retail work is higher than many people expect. Using the most recent data from The Bureau for Labor Statistics, the National Safety Council reports that in 2006, approximately 820,000 retail workers were injured and 581 were killed on the job. Retail workers comprise only 15 percent of the workforce, but account for 20 percent of the injuries and illnesses reported.
These workers need to understand that they're eligible for workers’ compensation if they need medical treatment and time off for an injury sustained at work.
Hazards of the Retail Workplace
People who have never had a retail job may have no idea of what the job entails other than what they see in their brief shopping visits. The employee who scans and bags your purchases at the register doesn't appear to be engaged in dangerous actions, but what you don’t see is that the employee may be standing in the same position for many hours, performing repetitive actions during those long shifts, and working during dangerous late-night hours.
Likewise, as we sift through a wide selection of merchandise, we don’t think about how those products get to the store, what it takes to unload them and get them on to the floor, and how and where stock merchandise is stored.
Unbeknownst to many shoppers, retail workers risk injury from the following work duties:
- Standing for long periods of time. When retail employees work long shifts, they're often expected to stand on hard floor surfaces for long periods of time. This can cause strain to back muscles, as well as pressure on legs and feet that could result in chronic and painful knee and hip conditions.
- Lifting and moving merchandise. Stockroom workers are expected to unload heavy merchandise, unpack it, and get it ready for store display. Bending, lifting, and reaching make a worker prone to back strains, torn muscles, and even broken bones. Storerooms can be dangerous places as well if merchandise isn't stacked and stored safely. Falling objects injure stockroom workers on a regular basis.
- Performing repetitive tasks. Clerks at the checkout counter perform the same tasks over and over again, which can lead to repetitive-motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Without accommodations to prevent these injuries, a retail worker could suffer debilitating and long-term damage.
- Late-night shifts. Violence is a real threat to retail workers who work late at night. Armed robberies, abusive customers, and even dangerous coworkers are a bigger threat at night, but can also endanger workers during the day.
- Hazardous conditions. Just like customers, workers are also at risk for slip and fall accidents when floors and entryways aren't kept clean and dry. Messy stockrooms can also lead to tripping incidents. Workers who suffer a fall could experience musculoskeletal injuries and broken bones.
While retail employees should always use caution in the workplace, employers are duty-bound to provide safe environments to protect their workers.
How Employers Should Help
Retailers are required to provide safe working conditions under recommendations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Important actions employers should take include:
- Training workers in proper methods for lifting and carrying heavy objects
- Hiring adequate custodial staff to keep areas clean and safe
- Providing extra safety protections for late-shift workers
- Allowing cashiers to stand on anti-fatigue mats or sit more frequently
- Educating cashiers on how to avoid repetitive-motion injuries
If an injury occurs, the employer should support the worker in reporting the incident and applying for workers’ compensation.
Have You Been Injured On The Job?
If you've been hurt at work on the job in Kansas City you need to speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.