Improper lifting of heavy items is a major cause of injury to retail workers. Even when an employee wears a brace or other lift assist device, he still must practice good lifting techniques to be safe. It is estimated that one back injury like a strain could cost an employer up to $40,000 depending on insurance. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers a free calculator to help you see the impact.
Many states now require that retailers carry worker's compensation insurance to cover injuries such as back strain. (Click here to see rules by state.) But even if you have insurance to cover the medical costs, you still have the indirect costs to consider. Indirect costs include lost productivity, overworking other employees to cover the injured one, decreased customer service, and many more. Often times, it's these indirect costs that hurt the retailer more than the direct ones. The bottom line is that an injury to an employee due to not following proper lifting techniques impacts everyone - the employee, the storeowner, the other employees and the customer. None of which are happy about it. And none of whom planned for the injury to happen.
By taking just a few precautionary measures when handling product, staff may avoid serious sprains, strains or back injuries. In examining reports for back injuries, we find that most employees were working hard, but not working smart.
- Examine the size and weight of the item(s) needing to be moved. Don't assume a small box will move easily. Gently push the object with your hands (or feet) to determine the weight of the load.
- Stretch your legs and back before lifting anything.
- If possible, ask another employee for help in lifting and carrying shelving, product or other items.
- Use a hand truck, cart, dolly, or other equipment if needed. Be sure the load is balanced well before moving and remember to push, not pull, the load.
- Clear the path you plan to take of any obstacles or hazards.
- To lift, use slow movements and face your body towards object. Bend your knees and firmly grasp the item with your entire hand, not just fingers.Never bend over to pick up the load. Lower your body to its level just as you do to speak to a child in the eyes.
- Keep your back straight as you lift straight up.
- Center the load in the space between your shoulders and waist.
- Always keep the load close to you body. Carrying it away from you will add pressure to your back and pull your shoulders away causing even more stress.
- To set the item down, bend your knees and slowly lower it to the ground. Do not let go until it is securely on the floor.
- When working together to carry or lift an object, let one person call the orders to direct the lift.
- Use a step stool or steady ladder to reach loads above your shoulders.
- Avoid far-reaching and twisting motions when possible.
- Take breaks and vary the load when moving a lot of product or other items.
- Stack heavy items between the knee and chest height to minimize the need to lift.
- When passable, always team lift with another person.
Use the techniques and tips listed above as part of your next store meeting or training session. Training is always the best defense against an injury or loss. Never assume your employees know how to handle this situation. And never assume that requiring them to wear belt will solve the problem.