Learning & Development

New NIOSH Guide Helps You Train to Prevent MSDs

A new publication from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) highlights how workers in grocery stores can reduce strains and sprains when moving materials from the delivery truck to the sales floor.
Designed for retail workers and safety experts, Ergonomic Solutions for Retailers uses a series of illustrations to show how and where employees in a retail setting, such as a grocery store, would use mechanical assist devices to lift, push, or pull heavy materials—job tasks that can lead to musculoskeletal injuries.
“Data has shown us that not only do musculoskeletal injuries result in time away from work across all industry sectors, but data shows that they affect workers in the wholesale and retail trade at a higher rate,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, MD. “This new resource is an invaluable tool for workers in this industry to help decrease injuries and increase productivity.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal injuries, also called overexertion injuries, accounted for approximately 30% of occupational injuries that resulted in time away from work. Additionally, laborers and freight, stock, and material movers experience the highest number of overexertion injuries. These injuries often involve strains and sprains to the lower back, shoulders, and upper limbs.

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Recommendations Beyond Retail

While the publication focuses on the grocery sector, the suggestions can be adapted to other scenarios, including for those working in warehouse and storage facilities. The technology presented may also support a retailer’s growing Internet sales that depend on moving large quantities of merchandise, often with fewer employees.
The guide recommends using mechanical assist devices during tasks that include unloading trucks and transporting merchandise to the store using a conveyor, transporting and unloading merchandise from the truck to the sales floor, transporting and unloading merchandise onto storage racks, and transporting and unloading merchandise from storage onto the sales floor.
Some of the equipment recommended in the guide includes:

  • Height-adjustable conveyors to transport products without the risks of bending and reaching injuries or dropped products (reduces bending and reaching);
  • Powered pallet movers to unload pallets from a trailer (reduces bending and reaching);
  • Self-adjusting handcarts for moving products to the sales floor (reduces bending and reaching);
  • Flat carts with spring-loaded platforms for moving excess merchandise to a storage rack (reduces bending and lifting);
  • Pallet stackers to move loaded pallets to storage racks (reduces lifting and carrying forces);
  • Vacuum lifts to move bags of material from pallets (reduces lifting and lowering forces);
  • Stocking carts to place products on shelves (reduces bending and awkward postures); and
  • Pallet jacks to move boxes from storage to the sales floor (reduces lifting and carrying).

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Training Is Key

The guide cautions, however, that material-handling equipment can introduce new hazards, and employees must be properly trained to use it. For example, while powered pallet movers reduce the risk of sprain and strain injuries, they can increase the risk of contact-with-object injuries. Similarly, using a pallet jack to transport products can reduce the number of trips between the backroom and the sales floor, but pallets can also pose a trip hazard to those in the immediate area and can block customers’ access to products.

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