Why traditional approaches to injury prevention in beverage distribution don’t always work?

[fa icon="calendar'] May 19, 2021 4:06:28 PM / by Deborah Lechner

This is the third part of a 5-part series on why injuries occur in the beverage distribution industry and how they can be prevented.

Why traditional approaches to injury prevention in beverage distribution don’t always work?

Before reading on you might like to read the introduction here.

If you’re looking to prevent beverage distribution workplace injuries, an ergonomically designed workplace and structured ergonomics training for employees is a great place to start. However, if your injury prevention program begins and ends with ergonomics and training alone, you likely won’t realize the full cost reduction that is available to you.

Why Training Alone Doesn’t Work

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine illustrates why ergonomics alone is not enough. In this study 2,534 employees and 134 supervisors, in physically demanding warehouse and distribution jobs, were thoroughly trained in safe lifting and handling techniques for the purpose of reducing lower back injuries. Over the six-year life of the study, researchers found that ergonomics training was only marginally effective: trained employees had comparable rates of lower back injuries to those in the untrained control group. In fact, the only measurable improvement in the trained group was increased knowledge of safe working behavior – knowledge that, unfortunately, was not put into practice.

This study doesn't mean ergonomic training isn't important. What it does show is that ergonomics training alone is not an effective strategy in reducing workplace injuries. Some movements and tasks simply can’t be modified, and poor lifting techniques can be nearly impossible for experienced employees to break. And many workers just don’t have either the strength, flexibility, or stamina to carry out the lifting techniques that they are taught.

Consider depalletizing. The most common approach to breaking down a pallet is a layer-by-layer or pyramid system depending on specific load weights, dimensions, and accessibility. The layer-by-layer approach can cause shoulder, back, and knee injuries if heavy packages don't slide easily off the pallet. depalletizing can cause undue strain on the shoulders, back, and knees if employees have to reach across the pallet to access products. While employees can be trained to identify the best depalletizing technique for a given situation, without constant reminding most revert to their personal "go-to" method rather than the most ergonomically correct one.

Not only does training provide a poor return on investment in reducing workplace injuries, but many of the studies touting the benefits of ergonomic interventions are now considered invalid because so few subjects exhibited the key characteristics required to participate in the first place. In other words, researchers were training people who weren't a good match for their jobs to begin with. The fact is, if a person lacks the strength, agility, and stamina to perform their jobs safely and efficiently, no amount of correction or assistance will be effective.

This is why investing in pre-employment Physical Abilities Training (PAT) is an important piece of the injury prevention puzzle for physically demanding industries like beverage distribution. PAT evaluates employment candidates for their abilities to meet the physical demands of the job, giving the company the means to hire only those who are physically capable of safe, injury-free workplace performance –thus making the most of your investment in ergonomics and safety training.

Studies Provide Support for pre-hire Physical Abilities Testing

Properly conducted and peer-reviewed studies done using PAT combined with employee wellness programs for grocery warehouse workers showed them to be effective at both reducing injury rates and lowering direct and indirect injury costs. A University of Illinois study showed an ROI of $18 for every $1 spent on PAT for physical plant employees, many of whom worked in a warehouse environment.

Although it’s important to have statistics on your side, before making wide-scale changes in hiring protocol, common sense also says that candidates who are physically capable of doing the job will be the most safe, efficient, and productive employees. Physical Abilities Testing takes the guesswork out of determining which candidates have what it takes to thrive in the workplace, as well as which ones would struggle with the physical demands of their jobs and potentially sustain a costly workplace injury.

Beverage distribution is a fast-paced, high demand industry. Succeeding means that you need a workforce with the strength and stamina to handle the workloads. By incorporating pre-hire Physical Abilities Testing, companies can achieve the demands of beverage distribution while reducing injuries because they’re hiring people who are physically capable of performing the physical requirements of the job.

Download this case study to see how one beverage distributor reduced work comp costs among new hires by 50%

For more information, contact Deborah Lechner, President ErgoScience, Inc. deborahlechner@ergoscience.com

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.