I'll Drink to That: Avoiding Beverage Industry Workplace Injuries

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 20, 2015 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

Musculoskeletal injuries are a major issue in the beverage industry. According to a study done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), this industry has significantly higher rates of occupational accidents and injuries than the manufacturing industry as a whole, and more than double the private industry rate. Additionally, NIOSH states that nearly three-fifths of injury and illness cases in the beverage industry were serious enough to require time off from work.

The greater than average risk to employees in this industry prompted the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to release a hazard alert letter on the issue.

The purpose of the letter was to alert employers in the beverage industry to the increased risk their employees face as well as to provide them with information that could be used to protect the safety and health of those workers. In this letter, OSHA notes that typical beverage delivery activities often involve forceful exertions, repetitive motions, and awkward postures for prolonged duration. These movements result in ergonomic hazards that can cause serious injuries of the back, shoulders, legs, arms, wrists, and hands. OSHA goes on to remind employers that well-known and easily available technology and techniques can help address these hazards.

OSHA refers to a NIOSH report when making recommendations to employers in formulating a comprehensive ergonomic program for preventing workplace hazards. The agency recommends that employers invest in evaluations of delivery tasks, which can determine whether ergonomic hazards are present and if so, pinpoint these problems so that they can be addressed. Site-specific ergonomics training for workers and management is also recommended by OSHA, which can ensure that they are aware of ergonomic hazards and how they can best be controlled.

Hazard control is the recommendation discussed at greatest length in the letter. Recommended engineering controls include modifications to delivery vehicles, such as pull-out step platforms, exterior grab handles on bays, and drop down bay shelves. Appropriate delivery equipment is recommended as well, including stair climbers, conveyors and hoists, and lightweight plastic pallets. Lastly, product modifications like optimized product packaging to provide a better grip and reduce weight are mentioned.

Administrative controls recommended by OSHA include repair and maintenance programs for vehicles and equipment. Work organization controls are also suggested, such as pre-planned unloading for driver routes, including route-specific diagrams to reduce multiple product handling.

Preventing Workplace Hazards: Taking Workplace Safety Further

These recommendations can certainly reduce the risk of injuries, so implementing them in your workplace is a great step. However, there are some limitations in what they can do, given the nature of the work. For instance, while employers have a lot of scope in controlling hazards in their own workplaces, they have a much more limited influence on the working conditions in off-site work areas – like the establishments where delivery drivers are off-load products.

Hiring a more capable workforce can provide an additional layer of protection against musculoskeletal injuries among your employees. The most effective means of doing this is by implementing a Physical Abilities Testing (PAT) program in your workplace. An effective PAT program will allow you to match the employee's capabilities to the physical demands of the job. This ensures that each person you hire has the physical capabilities – including strength, agility, balance, and coordination – to safely navigate the hazards you cannot engineer out of the job.

To help prevent workplace hazards, put OSHA's advice on effective hazard control methods to work. To address hazards that you cannot control, use a well-designed PAT program to minimize the risk of injury. Combining the two ensures that you are doing all you can to protect the health and safety of your workers.

Physical Abilities Testing ROI Whitepaper

Topics: Workplace Safety, Injury Prevention

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.