One of the easiest and most prevalent types of jobs available for workers in the United States is in the retail sector. Whether Americans are looking for flexible part-time income or full-time career opportunities, the retail industry provides more than five million jobs per year.
Retail positions are commonly held by adults in economically vulnerable areas. For instance, retailers may be the only source of low skilled, non-factory labor for many individuals, particularly in smaller or more rural communities. Increasingly, consumer retail and “big box” stores have become a source of employment for seniors, who are returning to work after retirement to supplement their income.
With the vast number of Americans who are employed on an annual basis in retail roles, what are the personal injury risks associated with different jobs within the sector? We will look at the most common workplace injuries and concerns, and explain how to report an accident if you work within a retail store environment.
The Frequency of Injuries for Retail Workers
American workers face minor to serious and catastrophic (disabling) injuries in the workplace daily. Did you know that in 2015, there were 2.9 million nonfatal occupational injuries reported by employers? Among the almost three million employees injured on the job, a staggering 2.1 million Americans (75 percent of total injury reports) involved workers in the service industry. While many believe that manufacturing and production jobs have the most strenuous physical demands and frequent injuries, factory jobs accounted for only 25 percent of worker injuries in 2015.
Retail and restaurant workers fall into the service industry category – two industrial sectors that provide more than 30 million jobs in the United States on an annual basis. In a 2011 article for “Safety + Health: The Official Magazine of the NSC Congress & Expo,” researchers were surprised to discover that the prevalence of workplace injuries in the retail sector was higher than other types of occupations, per capita, including higher risk jobs involving production, manufacturing, or fabricating.
Common Workplace Injuries for Retail Workers
A retail worker is required to perform several physical functions as part of their daily work. Cashiers may appear to have less strenuous jobs than stock workers in a retail or grocery store, but moving merchandise along the purchase conveyor and lifting heavy obstacles requires push, pull, stretch, and carry physical demands, while cashiers maintain a predominantly stationary stance. This places increased musculoskeletal strain on the body and contributes to sprains, strains, back pain, and repetitive injuries, such as carpal tunnel disorder. These are all injuries that are exacerbated frequently by long, scheduled shifts and hours of service.
Stock workers in retail settings experience fractures, broken bones, and bruises, as well as abrasions from moving and placing merchandise, shelves, storage and display units, and through operating machinery like forklifts and “pump trucks” that move skids of products. Falling shelves, products, and equipment injuries are common for individuals employed as stock workers in retail settings.
The Culture of ‘Non-Complaint’ in Minimum Wage Jobs
In 2016, the average salary for a minimum wage retail worker was $10.47 per hour, per 2015 data reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retention is frequently a problem for big box stores like Walmart, who have recently increased the minimum wage (in most states) to $9.00 per hour. Profits in the retail store industry are based on two key factors: The ability to provide goods at a discounted price to consumers, and the opportunity to keep service costs low by hiring only part-time and very few full-time workers at the least amount of wage possible.
Most individuals who find themselves in retail employment have either insufficient labor skills to seek higher paid employment elsewhere, or they require the flexibility that part-time work and scheduling offers. This is often the case for young parents and high-school and college students. Designed to be a temporary job or one for entry-level young workers, retail jobs have increasingly become more accessible and the only option for adults in many communities. Those who defend the minimum wage when questioned about ‘living wage’ standards frequently argue that retail jobs are not intended to support families; they are intended as part-time supplemental income, second jobs, or flexible alternatives for young families or seniors who need low-demand, non-career jobs.
However, work in the retail sector is anything but low demand, as injury rates clearly admonish the theory that these positions require little to no effort. Subsequently, individuals who have attained retail employment frequently have few alternative income options; they are often less willing to report a workplace injury because they are entitled to few benefits as a part-time worker, or they believe they may be fired or have their earnable hours reduced if they appear to complain or formally report a workplace industry.
The fear leads to a culture of silence among workers, who may sustain multiple injuries and refuse to report it to an employer for fear of punitive consequences Unfortunately, this also leads to the exacerbation of minor injuries into serious impairments that can have long-term consequences for workers. One Augusta personal injury attorney who specializes in personal injury law believes that retail employers do not always encourage the report of workplace injuries, because of an industry concept that minimum wage workers are plentiful and easily replaced.
Retailers suffer a problem with retention of retail workers, as workers do not view the job to be a progressive opportunity, and will leave for higher pay; consequently, minimum wage retail workers frequently feel that employers have no loyalty or long-term concern for their workers, as most retail positions are short-term and transient.
Why Should a Retail Worker Report an Injury?
Employers are required to educate all employees on workplace safety protocols, including the appropriate procedure to follow, when a workplace accident has occurred. But the onus is on employees to diligently report workplace injuries and document them with the employer to ensure that medical needs are met, should the injury require compensation (due to negligence) or extensive medical therapy and recuperation.
To learn more about employee rights and reporting a workplace injury, visit the United States Department of Labor.