Workers’ input is essential for safety in grocery stores

Employers need workers’ insight into tasks that cause discomfort so they can find solutions that foster safety. 

Photo credit: Gettyimages/Smederevac

You know those huge bins of fruits and vegetables we see in grocery stores? Stocking these items is one of the many tasks that put workers at risk of musculoskeletal injury (MSI). MSIs account for approximately 30 percent of all workplace injury claims in B.C.

Recently I spoke with Brian Kossey, a supervisor in Prevention Field Services at WorkSafeBC. He and his team are reaching out to supermarket workplaces throughout B.C. Their first visits are mostly educational and consultative.

“MSIs have consistently been the main cause of injuries in supermarkets for 20 years,” Brian says. “There was also an increase in MSIs during the past 2 or 3 years, probably due to shortages in staffing and increased workload.”

Brian describes what comes up in conversations on worksites during inspections when managers and workers gather.

“There have been a number of times where workers bring forward information that the manager had not heard about before,” Brian says. “Workers are very good at identifying what the problem areas are. They also have a lot of insight on how it could be improved. That’s often overlooked, even by health and safety professionals. There’s never been a time I haven’t learned something from the workers who do the job.”

Brian wants workers to tell their employers when certain tasks cause discomfort.

“With these type of injuries, a lot of folks feel that if you have a job that involves physical or repetitive tasks, then being stiff or sore is just part of the job,” he says. “They might not bring it to their employer’s attention because they don’t know it can become a more serious injury.”

Brian adds that early reporting of discomfort can help prevent the development of a longer term injury.

Safety by design

Employers need to look at product storage areas when considering MSI prevention. Says Brian: “A storage area can be quite dynamic. Every couple of days it can look completely different, with different pathways, based on what’s stored back there.”

Brian stresses the importance of looking at the entire workplace environment. While proper lifting techniques are important, there are many other factors involved when it comes to MSIs.

“Solutions should focus on changes to the work environment. I think it’s easy to miss that part of it, but it’s the most important part,” Brian says. “There is often a misconception that it’s some technique or something that the worker is not doing, but we need to look at how workplaces are arranged. How can we design the work in such a way that it’s not repetitive or it doesn’t force workers into these awkward positions or postures?”

For more information on preventing MSIs, see WorkSafeBC’s Ergonomics webpage.

Thank you to Brian for telling me about his work.

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