Retail workers perform a wide array of tasks in a typical day that demand both physical and mental energy. It may seem that most of the retail industry is part of a low-risk environment. However, falls can occur in any type of situation; more than 1 million workers’ comp claims are filed each year.
Because of the significant risks that accompany slip injuries, the retail industry should not be overlooked in fall prevention and safety. According to the CDC, the retail industry accounts for the highest amount of nonfatal fall injuries. As there are 75 retail subsectors, special care needs to be taken in each of these workplaces.
There are several risks retail workers and employers need to be aware of and prepared for.
1. Physical Environments
Day-to-day activities vary in the workplace and often bring on several physical risks. Spills on walking areas may cause slippery surfaces; similarly, a recently washed or waxed floor in a high foot traffic area increases the chance for fall-related injuries.
Weather can also pose the risk of slick surfaces. Ice, snow, and rain create outdoor hazards that are easily tracked indoors. In these cases, a simple sign can bring awareness to customers and employees to decrease dangerous situations.
Walking surfaces that are in disrepair, have protruding nails or boards, or changes in floor height all pose significant risks for falls as well as other severe injuries. Loose mats and rugs may also result in a loss of footing, as does any walkway clutter such as cords, hoses, clothing, garbage, and so forth. In fact, it is these types of obstructions that result in the most falls in retail workplaces.
2. Work Organization
A fast work pace is stressful for some, but it is also a risk factor for all retail employees as they may feel more rushed than they would at a normal work pace. Rushing around on slippery floors, around people on ladders, or in a work environment that is overly stocked poses double the risk of injury.
In addition, work tasks that involve handling liquid or greasy materials can cause hands, arms, or legs to become slick, heightening the possibility of a damaging fall.
3. Individual Factors
Older workers (defined as those aged 55 years or older) represented 19% of the U.S. workforce in 2009 and are the fastest growing segment of the working population. Age may negatively affect balance, as the risk of same-level falls increases among older employees.
Employee fatigue may also contribute to falls and trips. Failing eyesight may prevent employees from seeing walking surfaces clearly. Poor-fitting, loose, or worn out footwear may also cause a worker to trip.
Fall Safety Standards
Fall safety standards provide proper guidance for maintaining safe walking and working surfaces, including stairs. These include Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation 29 CFR 1910.22(a), which states expectations for “housekeeping, aisles and passageways, and floor loading.”
The National Floor Safety Institute has issued an ANSI standard on testing procedures and devices to measure the wet static coefficient of friction of common hard-surface floor materials.
There are a number of ways you can create workplace awareness and prevent serious falls and injuries.
1. Workplace Design
Develop a written STF (slip, trip, fall) prevention policy that specifies both employer and worker responsibilities and that is accessible for both managers and employees. (See NIOSH 2010 for an example of developing an STF prevention plan.)
Be consistent in keeping aisles and passageways free of tripping hazards. Providing proper lighting both indoors and outdoors helps reduce shadows, dark areas, and glares to keep dangerous surface irregularities visible.
Flooring material should be selected according to the type of work done in a specific area. For example, mats can be used as slip-resistant walking surfaces to soak up liquids and remove any dirt or debris from shoes. The larger these mats are, the more foot traffic they will see and in turn, will be more effective in cleaning footwear.
2. Employee Training
Employees should become familiar with their employer’s STF hazards as well as the safety procedures to prevent STFs.
It is important to make employees aware of who to call to report hazards, clean-ups, or other housekeeping issues.
3. Proper Footwear and Clothing
A workplace dress code is recommended to prevent injuries. Slip-resistant shoes are especially important for those that work on wet surfaces. Similarly, open-toed shoes may not meet an employer’s STF standard if workers consistently handle large objects.
Enforcing proper footwear and clothing selections will protect workers and prevent falls.
4. Store Cleanliness
Clean floors and work surfaces as soon as they become wet. When cleaning surfaces, keep one side of a passageway accessible to allow room for walking. Keep walkways clear at all times and mark permanent aisles. For purposes of one-time use, tape or anchor electrical cords to floors if they cross walkways.
Refrigerators and freezers should be consistently monitored in case of any water leakage; if leaking occurs, place absorbent strips and water-absorbent mats on the floor until the unit is repaired.
Be sure to use warning signs in wet areas and remove them once the floor is dry. During wet or oily processes, provide workers with platforms, nonslip mats, or other types of floor covers.
It is a common misconception that working in retail is predominantly non-risky. Moreover, people who work in a part-time, hourly wage situation may also be less inclined to report an injury out of fear of losing their jobs. By making the STF standards readily available for workers, carrying out proper training in the workplace, instilling best safety practices, and maintaining a clean environment, falls and related trip injuries can be avoided altogether.
Need help getting your retail establishment up to snuff in the safety department? Contact us today for a consultation. We’ll get you started down the right track.
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