Tips for Retailers: Stay OSHA Compliant and Keep Workers Safe

By Michael Benedict on October 12, 2015

Tips for Retailers: Stay OSHA Compliant and Keep Workers SafeYou might not think of your retail business as a target for OSHA fines. After all, retail establishments typically don't use heavy equipment or hazardous materials, or involve obviously dangerous activities like welding. But injuries still happen, so OSHA is cracking down on the retail industry, issuing thousands of dollars in fines — for everything from failing to keep passageways clean and clear, to improper storages of boxes (which could lead to a toppling hazard).

According to the law firm Epstein, Becker & Green, OSHA has been “very aggressive in its enforcement efforts and in seeking large penalties.” The agency intends to encourage its inspectors to impose the highest possible penalties going forward.

If you're not keeping an eye on safety, your employees could suffer anything from carpal tunnel syndrome and rotator cuff injuries to back injuries and tendonitis — and be at risk for on-the-job accidents. In one tragic case in 2008, a Walmart employee was trampled to death during the store's Black Friday sale. OSHA cited the company for failing to train its employees to deal with crowds.

Here are some tips to keep your employees safe and healthy on the job, and how mobile apps can help you do that.

First, make a detailed inspection of your store. If you don't already have a cleaning and safety checklist, that's the place to start. Consider:

  • Shelving: Is merchandise stacked safely or is it overcrowding shelves, threatening to fall? Are the shelves themselves secured?
  • Lighting: Are pathways (inside and outside) adequately lit to prevent possible trip and fall hazards?
  • Storage areas: Is backroom inventory stored properly and neatly?
  • Entryways and exits: Are exits clearly marked and free of obstructions?
  • Are there any other potential hazards specific to your business?

Second, spend some time on the floor of your store observing your employees as they do their jobs. OSHA suggests being alert to these risk factors:

  • Force: Are employees doing a lot of heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling?
  • Repetition: Are employees doing the same motion over and over again?
  • Awkward positions: Do employees spend a lot of time kneeling, squatting, etc.?
  • Contact stress: Are employees pushing part of their body, like a hand, against a hard or sharp edge, or using their hands as a hammer?

Other risk factors you might note are heavy items on very high or very low shelves (heavy items should be as close to waist height as possible) and inadequate space in the aisles (customers must be able to pass without knocking anything off a shelf).

Take note of any risk factors you see. While not all will lead to injuries, OSHA will look for those factors if investigating a workplace injury.

If you have a special event coming up (like a Black Friday sale), there's yet another walk-through you need to do. Look for potential dangers that could be exacerbated by a big crowd. Also, ensure no exits are locked or blocked, and be certain that your employees are all trained in what to do when working with large crowds.

After you've gone through your store with a fine-tooth comb and checked off any deficiencies, repair them. By using a mobile checklist rather than paper, it's easy to keep track of what has been fixed and what still needs to be done, and to make sure continuing maintenance doesn't get pushed to the back burner (since paper forms might sit for days or weeks before being picked up by your maintenance team).

If the risk factors you note involve employees, keep in mind the basic principle of ergonomics: Suit the job to the person rather than the person to the job. Cash drawers and receipt printers should be within easy reach of the cashier, for instance, and you can install anti-fatigue mats if cashiers are on their feet for long periods. You can also train your staff to lift heavy items safely (with bent knees and a straight back, not the other way around) and to hold things with their whole hand, rather than with one finger and a thumb (which can put stress on the wrist).

By using mobile checklists, you can ensure your customers and employees are safe and injury-free. That keeps you on OSHA's good side, leads to happier employees, and results in a better bottom line for your store.

The good news? This process doesn't have to cost a bundle. With Canvas' apps, you can simplify the process of creating and filling out safety checklists, merchandising inspections, store inspections, and more right from your mobile device — saving time and keeping your employees, visitors, and store safe. The data you collect is stored safely and securely in the cloud — not lost in a filing cabinet, so you can always quickly retrieve your inspections and other documents in seconds.

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