- 2018 marked the first year since 2012 in which the rate of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private U.S. employers didn't decline, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report published Nov. 7.
- Private employers reported a total of 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses last year, which is unchanged from the previous year. But only one industry sector — retail trade — recorded a year-over-year increase in its injury and illness rate, BLS said. Strains, sprains and tears were the most common type of injury or illness experienced by retail trade workers.
- Just over 900,300 of the 2.8 million recorded injuries and illnesses, about 32%, caused workers to miss at least one day of work last year. This was little changed from 2017, BLS said.
The retail sector accounted for many of the incidents that led to 2018's static injury and illness rate, and that may be due in part to the industry's rapid growth. Travis Vance, partner at Fisher Phillips and co-chair of the firm's workplace safety and catastrophe management practice group, told HR Dive in an interview that this growth means there are more retailers who don't know their safety obligations under federal law.
Many retailers may be exempt from OSHA's Form 300 filing requirements. Full-service restaurants are one type of business that is generally exempt, Vance said. But retailers also may be ignorant of other OSHA requirements, like the agency's recently updated standards on walking-working surfaces. Vance advised employers to look into measures like subsidizing or providing workers with slip-resistant footwear.
The problem has become more pronounced due to the high numbers of seasonal and temporary workers employers in the industry took on in 2018, Vance said. Leading retailers are projected to add even more such workers going into 2019's holiday season. "When you have that, you're going to have more employees that are not trained as well [and] who are more prone to injury."
Staff who aren't properly trained in areas like routine cleanup can make catastrophic mistakes. Employers saw an example of this recently: a Buffalo Wild Wings employee died earlier this month after inhaling fumes from a strong cleaning agent, an incident that left 10 others injured, Massachusetts newspaper The Republican reported.
Vance said the Buffalo Wild Wings incident demonstrated the dangers of failing to train workers especially in an environment where there are more of them. While he doesn't foresee more situations like this one occurring, he does predict there will be an uptick in injuries within the sector generally.
Injuries and illnesses can result in a financial as well as human cost for employers. An analysis published this month by AmTrust Financial Services found retail workers are out for an average of 24 days when on leave following an on-the-job injury. Injuries can also have catastrophic consequences beyond missing work: workers with past lost-time injuries are more likely to die from either suicide or drug-related causes, Boston University researchers found in a study published in August.
In an effort to improve safety measures, some employers have created training simulations that more accurately depict the environments in which workers operate. Tyson Foods, for example, turned to virtual reality to train staff on handling equipment and food products safely. Vance said HR personnel also need to ask basic questions of their organizations' workplace safety strategies.
"You've got to determine, 'what OSHA regulations apply to my workplace?,'" Vance said. "After you determine that, are we providing all the training we need, and are we providing the right equipment?"