Retail Clerks and On-the-Job Injuries

More to the Job Than Meets the Eye

Serving customers shouldn’t hurt you, but it can…and it does. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are among the most common for those who work as retail clerks, including grocery store clerks, cashiers, pharmacy technicians, butchers, etc.

MSDs affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. According to the Department of Labor, MSDs include the following:

  • Muscle strains and back injuries
  • Tendinitis (inflammation or irritation of a tendon)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Rotator cuff injuries (a shoulder issue)
  • Epicondylitis (inflammation of the elbow)
  • Trigger finger
Meat Cutter and Workers comp issues

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that MSD cases account for 33 percent of all workplace injuries, and that they are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.

It stands to reason, therefore, that risk management protocols must be in place to reduce the number and severity of MSDs. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlines the following four risk factors that are common in retail work:

  • Force—the amount of physical effort needed to perform one’s duties (such as lifting, pushing or pulling), handle merchandise or keep control of equipment or tools.
  • Repetition—performing the same motion or series of motions repeatedly or often for an extended period of time.
  • Awkward and static postures—assuming positions that put stress on the body, such as continuous reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, leaning over a counter, using a knife with wrists bent or twisting while lifting.
  • Contact stress—pressing the body or part of the body against hard or sharp edges.

Combine any of these risk factors, which is commonplace for retail clerks, and a workplace injury is likely to occur. Take cashiers, for instance. Scanners were supposed to ease the work load for cashiers, but they require repetitive motion that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve damage and other repetitive stress injuries. Data collected by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show that cashiers flick their wrists back and forth up to 600 times per hour. And in an eight-hour shift, the stats show that a cashier handles about 6,000 pounds of groceries, often times repeating the motion if the scanner doesn’t immediately read the bar code.

Workers Comp Issues for Grocery Clerks

Repetitive stress is also common for clerks tasked with stocking shelves and packing. However, because they also manually move heavy loads of product during any given shift, they are also susceptible to musculoskeletal problems effecting the back, neck, shoulder and legs. Mechanical lifting aids and movable carts can help ease the burden, but such devices are not always available.

Workplace equipment used in any number of jobs can also cause workplace injuries if not used properly or if it is not in good working order. For instance, meat cutters and delicatessen workers use saws, grinders, slicers and knives every shift that have the potential of severing, cutting or bruising fingers and hands.

Stress is another major source of workplace injuries or illnesses for retail clerks. First, there is the potential for violence. According to a study conducted by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 91 percent of grocery store fatalities resulted from assaults or violent acts, mostly homicides. In 78 percent of the homicide cases, robbery was the motive.

Shift work can also wreak havoc with one’s health, so much so that the medical profession classifies health conditions associated with a varying work schedule as a Shift Work Disorder (SWD).  Shift work disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm (the body’s inner alarm clock) and can lead to a variety of conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems and obesity.

Workplace injuries can be specific, such as falling off a ladder or slipping on a wet floor. However, they can also be cumulative, meaning they occur over time as is the case with anything from carpal tunnel syndrome and low back strains to high blood pressure and other internal problems. It is always wise to contact an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney who can help you receive the full range of benefits to which you are entitled within the complicated and ever-changing Workers’ Compensation system.

From Our Files

  • We represented a 58-year-old grocery clerk who injured her lower back lifting boxes at work. As a result of taking medications for this injury, she developed issues with her gastrointestinal system as well as depression and anxiety from being off of work for so long. She was awarded:
    • Medical cost reimbursement
    • Temporary disability
    • Future/lifetime medical treatment and medications
    • A substantial  permanent disability award
  • A long-time deli clerk suffered cumulative injuries to her hands, arms, shoulders, neck and back. We settled her case for 53 percent permanent disability and she has lifetime medical treatment for all of the body parts she injured.
  • We represented a 54-year-old stocker who fell off a ladder, injuring his low back and left knee. Because of this accident, his right knee was affected. He retired from work and was awarded a lump sum settlement of $75,000 for his injury.
  • A meat cutter sustained a cumulative trauma to both of her shoulders due to the repetitive nature of her work. She was awarded permanent disability. When she started working for another company, we settled her lifetime medical treatment for $40,000.

Keep in mind that because Workers’ Compensation is a no-fault system, an injured worker is not suing his or her employer, but rather making a claim for benefits. And, because each claim is different, with many variables involved, results cannot be guaranteed.

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