Preventing Common Retail Injuries

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Preventing Injuries

What is Injury Prevention?

Injury prevention means giving workers the information and equipment they need to work safely and protect themselves from injuries at work.

Many of the sprains, strains, bruises and cuts that are common in the retail industry are preventable. Every year, these injuries cause needless pain and suffering. They also cost employers and the workers compensation system tens of millions of dollars in claims annually.

Preventing injuries is a proactive two-way effort. Employers need to provide staff with a mix of education, training and equipment appropriate to their stores. Workers, in turn, need to use that knowledge to protect themselves and others.

When do Injuries Happen?

There are some situations in which all injuries become more likely.

Inexperience

Young workers between the ages of 15 and 24 are at a particularly high risk of getting injured at work. New workers who are not familiar with the job are also more likely to get hurt than people who have more experience. Young and new workers need careful supervision and proper instruction when they are first hired so make sure your orientation sessions cover injury prevention techniques.

Rushing

When people are rushed and feel pressured to work quickly, they tend to be less attentive, to take shortcuts and cut corners on their own safety. For example, when in a rush, a worker may try to lift too many boxes at once, injuring his or her back.

Working this way – under pressure – is actually more costly in the long run than taking the time to work with care. Being careful requires a long-range outlook, beyond the pressures of the moment in which rushing to get things done seems like a good idea. Employers are in the perfect position to foster a culture in which workers are supported in doing things properly and safely the first time – saving themselves from injury and saving your business money.

Common Injuries in Retail

Statistics show that these are the most common types of injuries experienced by retail workers:

  • Overexertion and musculoskeletal injuries
  • Fractures and bruises
  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Cuts

The rest of this module goes over each of these in more detail and provides some ideas for educating and training workers in prevention techniques.

There are, of course, many other injuries that can happen at work. Some may be less common but more serious. This module focuses on preventing the more common injuries, but it is important to be sure that you address issues that are particular to your store as well. Review your first aid and injury records to make sure you customize your training and education to fit your circumstances.

Overexertion and Musculoskeletal Injuries (MSIs)

Musculoskeletal Injuries (MSIs) are injuries to people’s bones, muscles, tendons and other tissues that happen because of the way they move to do certain tasks. MSIs can result in painful inflammation and ongoing permanent injuries.  Overexertion is an MSI caused by putting too much strain on the body - either all at once or through repetition.

Sometimes the signs and symptoms come on suddenly as in the case of a pulled muscle or sudden back pain. Sometimes they are cumulative and develop gradually over time. MSIs are so common that almost every job has some risk, and most people ignore the symptoms, hoping they’ll just go away, until they turn into serious, even permanent, problems.

MSIs resulting from overexertion such as lifting things that are too heavy or too bulky – or using improper lifting techniques - are the most common injuries in convenience stores and service stations. These most often affect peoples’ backs, necks, shoulders, arms and hands.

Workers need to be shown proper techniques for lifting and carrying. Do short on-the-job training sessions to demonstrate how to lift and carry items that are relevant to your store. Get staff to participate! The following tips can be used in your training sessions:

Lifting

  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves and/or safety boots.
  • Look for other ways to move the item. Could you use a dolly or hand-truck? Could you push, slide or roll it? Do you need help?
  • Warm up. You are more likely to get hurt if your muscles are cold. Check the WorkSafeBC booklet Back Talk: An Owner’s Manual for Backs for some good strengthening and warm-up exercises.
  • Prepare and plan your lift. Where is the load going? Is the route clear? Is there somewhere to put it down when you get there?
  • Place your feet apart to give yourself a stable, balanced base. Point your whole body in the direction you want to go.
  • Adopt a good posture. If you’re lifting from a low level, bend your knees and keep your back straight. Keep your shoulders level and facing the same direction as your hips. Keep your arms straight. Use your abdominal muscles. Tuck your chin in.
  • Get a good, secure grip. Keep the load close to your body.
  • Lift smoothly without twisting, using the larger muscles in your legs. When turning, shift the position of your feet rather than twisting at the waist.

Carrying

  • Make sure you can see where you're headed
  • Avoid twisting and bending – face the direction you’re going
  • Keep your arms tucked in and the load close to your body
  • Don’t change your grip without supporting the load
  • Rest if you get tired

Unloading

  • Reverse the lifting process
  • Bend from your knees – keeping your back straight
  • Keep the load close to the body
  • Place it gently, clear of fingers and toes
  • Put it down, then adjust it
  • Be sure the load is secure before you walk away

Coordinated lifting

Getting help is a good idea, but uncoordinated help can be worse than none at all. Getting two or more people to lift and carry together can be challenging.  Here are some ideas for co-ordinating a group lifting effort:

  • Two people lifting should be around the same height
  • Decide who is in charge before you start
  • Communicate so that you both move at the same time
  • Take your time
  • Check to make sure you don’t put the load down on your partner’s (or your own) fingers or toes.

Fractures and Bruises

Fractures and bruises are very common injuries in the retail sector and most often happen as a result of tripping, slipping and falling on the floor. Getting hit by falling or moving objects is also a significant cause of broken bones and bruises.

Often these injuries can be prevented by taking some “common-sense” steps to avoid situations where people are likely to trip, slip and fall, making sure that the work area is kept tidy, and that stored items and displays are secure.

A short information session with staff is a useful way to create awareness. Consider, for example, taking staff for a quick tour of the store and asking them to point out anything that might be a tripping or slipping hazard. The following tips can be used to help tailor your training:

  • Wear appropriate footwear with a good non-slip tread
  • Clean up spills promptly. Use appropriate absorbent materials for cleaning up oily spills
  • Salt icy areas, especially stairways
  • Use warning signs to alert staff and customers about wet and slippery floors
  • Keep stairways clear of obstructions, ice, mud and other slippery substances
  • Make sure displays are secure and not likely to fall on anyone
  • Stock shelves and storage areas with care, so that items are balanced and secure
  • Keep electrical cords secured and away from walkways, aisles and stairs
  • Keep walkways clear of debris, boxes and other obstructions
  • If you see something that someone could trip over or slip on, do something about it

Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs)

Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) are specific kinds of MSIs caused by doing tasks that put strain on the body over and over. In retail stores, these most often manifest in joint pain and inflammation of the tendons in the arms, wrists and hands. Some common examples are tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, but the neck, back, shoulders and knees can also be affected.

Workers can experience the signs of RSIs in different ways and people often dismiss “minor” symptoms in the hope that they will just go away. In the case of RSIs, however, symptoms only get gradually worse and can lead to severe, even permanent injuries. Make sure workers know how to recognize these early warning signs of RSIs:

  • Pain
  • Soreness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Stiffness

These signs should never be ignored and must be reported to the appropriate first aid attendant or supervisor.

Sometimes a task that is safe when performed once or a few times can become a source of injury if it’s done repetitively. A task doesn’t need to be forceful to cause injury: repeating tiny motions can be just as likely to result in an RSI.  The following tips have been shown to help protect workers from RSIs:

  • Break up repetitive work by varying the tasks
  • Slow down the pace of work so that the body can recover between movements
  • Introduce repetitive tasks gradually so that workers have a chance to develop enough muscle strength to protect themselves

Help to minimize the chances of people getting hurt by teaching good gripping techniques, good posture, and by organizing the work area so that workers don’t have to twist and bend to reach things.

Gripping techniques

Use a power grip whenever you can. A power grip uses the whole hand – wrapping the fingers and thumb around the object. This is much less stressful and much more efficient that just using the fingers.

Use a two-handed power grip for things that are too heavy or bulky for one hand.

A pinch grip is useful only for objects that are too small for a power grip. It puts more strain on the wrist and fingers than a power grip.

Good posture

Organize the work area so that the body only has to move within a comfortable range. Minimize the need to reach, bend and twist.

  • Stand up straight. If you sit while you work, use a chair with good back support
  • Avoid twisting and bending your neck – either forward, backward or to the side
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed – not “hunched” or “slumped”
  • Keep the work close to your body and slightly below elbow height
  • Keep your wrists straight and in line with your forearms. Avoid twisting the wrists or bending them up, down or to the side
  • If you have to stand for long periods, use a footrest and wear shoes that provide good support. In some situations, anti-fatigue mats can help to promote circulation and reduce fatigue
  • Stretch and move around now and then to give your body a break

Cuts

Every year, many workers in the retail industry experience cuts and lacerations ranging from minor scrapes to serious wounds requiring emergency medical attention and time off work. Very often, these injuries happen while workers are using cutting tools like box cutters and knives.

Spend 10 or 15 minutes with staff to demonstrate proper techniques for opening boxes, crates, or any other tasks requiring the use of cutting tools.   Use the tips contained in the second example in the Sample Written Safe Work Procedures to help guide your training session.  Make sure staff know that even when they're doing a relatively simple, everyday thing like opening a box of stock, they are expected to be careful:

  • Wear appropriate protective equipment such as a pair of properly-fitting gloves
  • Choose the right tool for the job. For example, don’t use a pair of scissors in place of box cutters
  • Take your time. It is not worth hurting yourself to save a couple of seconds
  • Pull the blade when you are cutting, don't push
  • Keep your fingers out of the way
  • Put knives and cutting tools away when you’re finished
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