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January 16, 2014
OSHA dresses down retailer for repeat violations

Retailers are not immune from OSHA enforcement. A popular fashion chain is facing $236,500 in potential fines for exposing employees to safety hazards at stores in Manhattan and Paramus, New Jersey. Learn from the mistakes of this employer and avoid similar citations at your workplace.

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OSHA launched an inspection after receiving complaints. When inspectors arrived, they found obstructed exit routes, an inaccessible fire extinguisher, hazardously stored material, and uncovered fluorescent lights. The fines were significant because two of the citations were for repeat violations.

What can you learn about safety from the retail sector?

The common thinking is that retail work is far less hazardous than industrial and construction employment. But in fact, store employees face considerable hazards. According to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), “Retail jobs require repetitive motions, heavy lifting, long periods of standing, and other hazards that can result in injury.”

Hazards of retail jobs include:

  • Indoor air quality and pollution. Many retail stores are in closed buildings with windows that cannot be opened easily and doorway exits in remote areas. Indoor air pollutants can lead to respiratory ailments.
  • Ergonomics. Retail workstations need to be adjustable to accommodate the variety of heights and strengths of retail workers. A workstation that allows for alternating between sitting and standing is important, as is room to move about without awkward motions. Retail jobs often require repetitive bending and twisting of the hands, wrists, and upper body. These tasks can place excessive stress on muscles, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves.
  • Lifting, carrying, and standing. Lifting and stocking activities can contribute to back injuries, lower back pain, and other conditions.
  • Slips, trips, and falls. Wet, slippery floors around produce, meat, fish, and freezer areas are especially hazardous in supermarkets. Floors cluttered with boxes present additional fall hazards.
  • Electricity. Workers in department stores, supermarkets, and other stores may face hazards from exposure to live electricity. OSHA estimates that more than half of all electric shock deaths could be prevented if employers provided training about electrical hazards and instituted safe work practices.
  • Workplace violence. Retail workers—especially those who work alone and at night—may face the risk of on-the-job violence. Make sure you have security procedures in place and that employees are trained to follow them.
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