Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), or “ergonomic injuries,” are the most common type of injury in the retail and manufacturing (R&M) sectors.1 These injuries affect muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs and are typically caused by overexertion while lifting, pushing, pulling, and other actions required to move objects.2
In retail, the incidence rate for MSDs was 34.8%, leading to a median of 10 days of lost work. Manufacturing workers had an incidence rate of 30.6% and lost a median of 14 days of work.3 In 2021, the direct cost to employers for MSDs was over $13 billion.4 However, MSDs are also associated with high rates of absenteeism, lost productivity, and increased costs for health care, disability, and worker’s compensation. When these elements are factored in, the estimated cost for these ergonomic injuries rises to between $45 and $54 billion annually.5
Below, we offer tips for how R&M health and safety managers can track incidents and implement preventative programs, such as ergonomic programs, to help reduce employee risk.
1. Collect Comprehensive Data on MSDs
Developing a plan to evaluate MSDs in a specific facility requires good incident reporting with comprehensive data collection and the ability to process data in a way that illuminates risks and trends. For example, R&M safety personnel may use specialized Occupational Medicine (OccMed) software to run reports on the following data points:
- The number and rate of injuries by year, department, employee experience level, location, etc.
- The body parts affected
- How many days of work are lost
- How many injured workers require job modifications
- Cost of care
- Days spent on disability vs. part-time payroll
- Recovery rates
- Where employees were treated
2. Incentivize Reporting to Create Targeted Prevention Plans
Getting good data requires incentivizing the reporting of all incidents – and in some cases, near-misses as well. By encouraging reporting, health and safety managers better understand what early interventions they can establish to prevent injuries.
These may include:
- Designating an ergonomics or occupational health coordinator employees trust6
- Investing in software to track OccMed injuries and outcomes
- Assessing the most common tasks associated with injuries and ways they can be made safer
- Improving safety education
- Redesigning tasks to be safer or employing equipment to aid in jobs that commonly lead to injury
- Assessing the success of preventative measures weeks, months, and years after they are put in place
- Redesigning facilities or building future facilities to accommodate the best safety principles7
3. Develop an OccMed Response Plan For Ergonomic Injuries
Retail and manufacturing health and safety managers are typically responsible for handling employee injuries after the fact. In this case, some considerations for improving OccMed include:
- Ensuring a good relationship with a local clinic
- Following up on and tracking an employee’s recovery and well-being
- Establishing a return-to-work plan in conjunction with the employee’s healthcare provider
- Investigating the circumstances of the injury
- Rethinking job tasks, facility planning, and equipment to prevent further injuries
- Providing ergonomic solutions to employees immediately, if necessary
4. Consider On-Site OccMed Support
In some cases, on-site education and oversight may be the best way to prevent and treat injuries and help modify job duties.
For a workplace to be ergonomically efficient, the job requirements need to meet the abilities of the people working there. They need to address bodily stress and muscle overuse, encourage good posture and movement and eliminate repetitive tasks as much as possible.8
But not all OccMed providers understand the nature of the retail and manufacturing industries and job responsibilities. Therefore, in some cases, it may be more cost-effective to have some medical staff available on-site, especially regarding the most common workplace injuries such as musculoskeletal disorders. On-site OccMed specialists with ergonomic injury training can work more closely with employers to assess an employee’s ability to do specific tasks as they recover.
5. Understand Ergonomic Injuries
We tend to think of ergonomics in terms of desk jobs, but it’s just as critical in retail and manufacturing, where employees face risk factors such as heavy lifting, poor lighting, vibrations, prolonged standing, equipment-related injuries, cramped workspaces, and various ways of overexerting the body through manual labor.
By tracking injuries and consulting with OccMed specialists trained in ergonomics, employers can institute informed interventions to prevent incidents that lead to MSDs as well as formulate plans to give employees the best care possible when they are injured on the job.
Health and safety managers play a unique role in keeping retail and manufacturing employees safe at work. If you’re interested in hearing more about the software tools that can help employers spot trends and track workplace injury data, schedule a demo with Net Health.
Note: Net Health makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any of the information presented herein. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the viewer’s responsibility to verify any and all information presented herein.
4 Best Practices for Retail & Manufacturing Workplace Health & Safety Leaders
2 Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S), “The Relationship between MSDs and the Workplace,” February 13, 2020.
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Number, Incidence Rate, and Median Days Away From Work Of Injuries and Illnesses Involving Musculoskeletal Disorders By Selected Industries, U.S., Private Sector, 2018,” May 1, 2020.
4 Statista, “Direct Costs of 10 Most Disabling U.S. Workplace Injuries in 2021,” July 2021.
5 Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders & Ergonomics,” February 12, 2020.
6 The University of California, “Ergonomics Program,” Accessed June 4, 2022.
7 Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), “Guidelines for Retail Grocery Stores,” 2004.
8 National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Musculoskeletal Disorders and Workplace Factors: A Critical Review of Epidemiologic Evidence For Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders of the Neck, Upper Extremity, and Lower Back,” July 1997.