In February, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the retail chain store Forever 21 with two repeat safety violations and a total of $55,000 in proposed fines. These fines were imposed, among other reasons, because Forever 21 allegedly exposed workers to hazards near the emergency exit.
The major hazard was boxes that were piled in the back room that were not secured and could fall on workers. Also, the emergency exit of the store was narrowed by boxes, thereby preventing workers from leaving the store quickly in the event of an emergency.
An OSHA Massachusetts area director, Jeffrey A. Erskine said that, “Particularly disturbing is that these same hazards were previously found at another Forever 21 store. An employer with multiple locations, such as Forever 21, must ensure that safe and healthful working conditions are maintained at all its workplaces.”
We usually think of places like construction sites, factories, or packing plants as dangerous workplaces. However, retail jobs, warehousing, and many other types of industries experience injuries and fatalities, too. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there were 36 fatal workplace injuries in Massachusetts service providing industry workplaces in 2011, up slightly from 23 in 2010 and 35 in 2009.
Each retail workplace is different and the types of injuries faced in retail may be different from those faced in construction, for example, but the workers’ compensation system is designed to help all workers regardless of the type or source of the work injury. Some of the most common nonfatal categories of injury experienced in the retail industries are: (1) overexertion and musculoskeletal, (2) fractures or bruises, (3) repetitive strain, and (4) cuts.
Muscoskeletal injuries are common in nearly all industries. They are overexertion injuries to bones, muscles, tendons, or tissues, often located in backs, necks, shoulders and arms. They occur based on the movements necessary to do specific tasks. They can lead to pain, inflammation, and pulled muscles. They can have a sudden onset or appear gradually. One way these types of injuries can be prevented is through employee training. Workers may need help in learning the best ways to warm up, lift heavy objects (bending the knees), carry objects, unload, and learn how to lift with more than one person’s involvement.
Fractures and bruises are also common in a retail setting. These can result from a slip and fall, such as when customers drop something on the floor. Other times, they can be the result of falling or moving objects, like the boxes in the Forever 21 citation described above. One way for employers to reduce these kinds of injuries is to mandate appropriate footwear and institute good policies for employees: cleaning up spills, not stacking boxes too high, using warning signs, and keeping walkways clear.
Another common injury is the repetitive strain injury, which is a specific kind of muscoskeletal injury that happens when someone must repeat the same action over and over. The action might not cause any problems if done a few times, but it may become an injury over a long period of time. Although these injuries are probably most common in office jobs, they can happen in retail stores as well, manifesting as inflammation of the tendons, shoulder problems, and knee injuries. Reducing the number of these kinds of injuries can be done by varying tasks or slowing the pace or by introducing good posture.
Cuts and lacerations also occur in the retail industry, particularly when cutting open boxes or dealing with displays. Sometimes this type of injury can be prevented through written safety procedures, protective gear and taking extra time.
If you have suffered an injury in the workplace, we can help you resolve the legal issues that arise in this context so that you can rest and recover. If you are concerned about your employer’s workers’ compensation coverage, ask the experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates what you should do. Call us at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.