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High rates of employee turnover and a young workforce may be behind increases in workplace injuries reported in the retail sector, but male employees and aging workers are cost drivers in retail workers compensation, according to two reports released in November detailing injury and illness rates for retail workers in 2018.
Occupational injury and illness rates for all industries have declined each year except for 2018, when the rate held steady for the first time in a decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, retail injury rates ticked up slightly, rising from 3.5 cases per 100 workers in 2018 from 3.3 cases per 100 workers in 2017, which was the industry’s first uptick in total recordable cases since 2003, according to the agency.
And with the holiday season in nearly full swing with the influx of seasonal, inexperienced help, the additional inventory that retailers may be expected to handle adds to the safety challenge, said Aaron Gelb, partner in the Chicago office of Conn Maciel Carey LLP.
“One of the main challenges that we find (in retail) is the fact that there is more turnover than you’d find in other segments,” said Las Vegas-based Matt Zender, senior vice president of workers compensation strategy at AmTrust Financial Services Inc.
Injured retail workers missed an average of 24 days of work due to injuries, with employees aged 18 to 30 accounting for the highest number of workers compensation claims, according to AmTrust’s first retail sector risk report based on more than 20,000 worker compensation insurance claims from the company’s retail clients between 2016 to 2018, released Nov. 7.
“It’s more difficult for new or inexperienced employees to know what the protocols are,” said Mr. Zender. “Unfamiliarly is certainly one of the key drivers of frequency of claims and also severity of claims. There’s a lot of pressure … to properly train new employees.”
While younger workers under age 30 accounted for nearly a third of all retail injuries, this group accounted for just 16% of comp costs, according to AmTrust. But workers over the age of 70, an age group BLS says will continue to expand in the labor market through 2024, accounted for less than 1% of claims but had the highest average payout at $14,408, with male workers’ total claim costs more than double that of women in the retail industry.
The average loss paid per claim for male workers was $11,641 vs. $7,030 for women, and total loss paid for claims filed by women were $63 million less for injured female workers vs. injured male workers, at $52.7 million total loss paid v. $116 million, respectively.
“Women tend to have smaller claims,” he said. “Is that because their bodies are more likely to recover? I don’t know. But that order of magnitude was surprising to me, and very interesting.”
Causes unique to retail are another issue, as injuries caused by collapsing materials — such as improperly stacking inventory — is one of the costliest injury types, said Mr. Zender.
In October, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited two discount retailers with six-figure penalties for unsafely stacking merchandise and blocking emergency exits and electrical panels.
Whereas retailers such as grocers will have a planogram, or map specifying exactly how each piece of inventory should be placed, how many go on the shelf and how high it can be stacked, for closeout or discount retailers that don’t have a consistent offering store-to-store or day-to-day, it can be difficult to plan, said Mr. Birnbach.
“It’s up to the store to determine the best way to show (the merchandise), and the problem there is you’re dealing with low-compensated individuals who aren’t qualified or capable to make those kinds of decisions” which can result in safety violations and injuries to workers and customers from improperly stacked merchandise, said Jerry Birnbach, a retail design consultant and expert witness based in Somers, New York.
Conducting a job hazard analysist to identify “what the hazards are and ensuring that everybody is using appropriate lifting techniques” can go a long way toward injury prevention, said Mr. Gelb.
Communication, too, is critical, said Robert Cartwright Jr., Northeast division manager of environmental, health, safety and sustainability for Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC and immediate past president of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.
“When we look at what is going on with retail … it can’t be an us vs. them mentality,” he said. “Getting the involvement of your people and creating a safety culture is how you’re going to end up reducing your losses.”
Retail industry workers miss an average of 24 days of work due to injuries, according to a report released Thursday by AmTrust Financial Services Inc.