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Safety Tips for Retail Workers

On your way to the store to pick up some Halloween candy? Don’t be surprised to find that next to the bags of candy corn you will already find displays of turkey-themed dishware for Thanksgiving and a selection of Christmas lights. Though far away for most of us, for retailers the holiday season feels like it’s just around the corner. The busiest time of their year, retailers have to start now to prepare for the onset of holiday shoppers by increasing their regular employees’ hours as well as hiring seasonal, temporary workers. As a result, not only will these workers face an increased work load and larger crowds, but more of them will have had less experience and training. At this time of the year, therefore, it is especially important that retail employees receive a reminder on a few ways to protect their health and safety.

One area of concern for retail employees is repetitive stress injuries, an injury that occurs when a person performs a task that consistently puts pressure or strain on one area of the body. Symptoms include pain, numbness, and/or weakness of the affected area. For instance, cashiers’ and stockers’ repetitive use of their hands can end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve running from the arm into the hand becomes compressed at the wrist, causing anything from mild pain or numbness, to severe pain and an inability to maintain a grip. Another common injury is back pain from repeated bending, stooping or lifting, such as when an employee maintains and restocks retail displays. To avoid this problem, employees can ask for assistant devices such as braces to maintain proper support and alignment of joints and muscles. Also, use proper techniques for lifting objects like maintaining bent knees and a straight back, as well as lifting heavy objects in pairs. It also helps to take quick breaks from any repetitive action to relieve your muscles, nerves and joints from stress.

Retail employees are also at risk for slips and falls. From tripping over pallets of merchandise in walkways, to falls that occur while trying to reach high shelves, there are multiple possibilities for injury. Just following your regular duty of cleaning floors or mopping up merchandise spills means working around wet, slippery floors. Maintain safety by wearing shoes with good traction, using well-balanced, two-sided ladders for high shelves, keeping aisles clear, and placing signs warning of wet floors even after closing hours. It’s not just customers who can fall in slippery aisles!

Another concern for employees is crime. At some point in your career you may be faced with robbery or shoplifting. Do not, under any circumstances, confront either. In the case of a robbery, comply as much as you can with their demands; then call the police after the robber has left. Never attempt to detain or question a suspected shoplifter. Instead, if you witness something suspicious, contact your manager, store security and/or the police. In fact, due to several recorded instances of employees being killed or injured when attempting to stop a theft, to diminish liability, many retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy now include in their employee handbooks a policy forbidding employees from intervening during a crime. Employees can and have been fired for failing to follow this rule.

In the rush to staff their stores for the busy holiday season, at times employers fail to adequately teach and/or enforce employee safety measures and regulations. But all retail employees, even seasonal workers, have a right to a safe and healthy working environment. If you have concerns about your safety or health on the job, contact your manager and your human resources department. If you have been injured at work, contact an Illinois personal injury lawyer who can advise you of your rights.

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