Why Worker Safety Needs to Top Retailers’ Lists This Holiday Season

This year has been especially perilous for Industrial Athletes, the critical personnel who get our goods where they need to go and keep the retail industry running. The turbulent labor market made for especially high turnover, which meant less training, earlier burnout and more injuries.

Our recent Industrial Athlete Workforce Report found that nearly half (47%) of Industrial Athletes are stressed at their current jobs and 18% say it’s having a negative effect on their mental health, nearly equal to the 20% who agree it takes a toll on their physical health. Add to these statistics the year’s record-breaking heat waves and you have yourself a recipe for injuries, turnover and high liability costs.

Now retailers are preparing to head into their busiest season, when workforces grow exponentially overnight and a huge swath of untrained workers begin dealing with the year’s highest demand. If safety wasn’t already top of an organization’s radar, a new initiative from OSHA geared directly at retail warehousing has put the spotlight on.

At StrongArm, we’ve been working with safety and operational executives across some of the world’s largest retailers to prepare their workforces for the busy season. Here are the extra considerations that must be taken into account this year and what you can do to better protect your seasonal holiday workforce. 


Short-Term Labor Doesn’t Mean Short-Term Training

Seasonal workers are usually deprived of the in-depth on-the-job safety training garnered by those who hold more permanent roles. They arrive and are quickly trained and put into action to begin to relieve the high holiday demand but, before you know it, a quarter of them have burned out and need to be replaced, and the cycle continues. Nearly 18% of warehouse workers report they have received zero training, and in this environment that causes injuries rates to snowball.

In fact, employees are at three times the risk for a lost-time injury in their first month on the job than workers who have been at their job for more than a year.

We saw this firsthand so many times this year as the labor market rocked and turnover was sky high: 60% of turnover is occurring within an industrial worker’s first 90 days on the job. To reduce warehouse injuries and retain as many employees as possible during the high season, ensure they are getting in-depth multi-day safety training when they start. Safety techniques can’t just be shown once and then reinforced through signage. Workers need repetitive, tactile and real-time instruction of how to operate safely throughout the warehouse. 

Leverage Safety Role Models and Mentors

Turnover doesn’t just hurt safety because new workers need to be hired and trained again, it also reduces the number of veterans on staff who accumulate long-term safety knowledge and know-how and would typically pass that down to new joiners.

These individuals reinforce safe working practices in a way formal training cannot. They develop trust with rookies by working together, and the tips and corrections they provide them will inherently be retained even better. Creating a mentorship model is also a great opportunity to provide public praise to a worker known as a safety leader and show the rest of the shift the value in doing the same.

Put Technology to Work

While corporate and white-collar workers often benefit from new technology, industrial workers are frequently overlooked, our study found. However, there are many technologies now available that are improving safety in back-of-house retail.

We frequently hear about automation. In the warehouse it can improve the job and reduce injuries if it’s implemented in the right places. Automated systems can be leveraged to replace repetitive movements that lead to ergonomic strain (like placing tape over a box in the same spot over and over all day) and reduce musculoskeletal injuries in the long run.

Alternatively, using automation to replace aisle picking or roles that allow human workers to move around throughout the warehouse during their shift could instead pigeonhole them into more static roles and increase injuries related to repetitive stress. Identifying the right places for automation in the warehouse is key. Relying on accurate risk and injury data to inform those decisions is paramount.

AI safety technologies in the form of safety wearables are another key solution that is today giving management insight into the daily safety status of everyone on shift, as well as their most likely areas for injury. Having this data on hand, management can intervene and provide retraining or other solutions to eliminate those mistakes before they turn into injuries. Major retailers like Walmart have seen a 64% injury reduction rate among employees in warehouses where wearable technology was deployed.

Injuries in the warehouse impact both workers’ lives and the bottom line. It’s time to take a more serious stance on safety, refining your practices and technology to keep workers safe and keep fulfillment predictable this holiday season.

Sean Petterson is founder and CEO of StrongArm Technologies, which he founded in 2013 to protect Industrial Athletes from preventable workplace strain, injury and death.

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