Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders: Guidelines for Retail Grocery Stores

Executive Summary

OSHA's Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders: Guidelines for Retail Grocery Stores provide practical recommendations to help grocery store employers and employees reduce the number and severity of injuries in their workplaces. Many of the work-related injuries and illnesses experienced by grocery store workers are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as back injuries and sprains or strains that may develop from various factors, including lifting, repetitive motion disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, or injuries resulting from overexertion. MSDs may also be caused partly or wholly by factors outside of work.

More remains to be learned about the relationship between workplace activities and the development of MSDs. However, OSHA believes that the experiences of many grocery stores provide a basis for taking action to better protect workers. As the understanding of these injuries develops and information and technology improve, the recommendations made in this document may be modified.

Grocery stores that have implemented injury prevention efforts have said they have successfully reduced work-related injuries and workers' compensation costs. Many times, these efforts have reduced injuries and led to increased worker efficiency and lowered operating costs. For example, designing checkstands to reduce ergonomic risk factors such as twisting or extended reaching can improve cashier effectiveness and productivity (1). The purpose of these voluntary guidelines is to build on the progress that the grocery store industry has made in addressing the cause of work related injuries and illnesses.

These guidelines are intended only for retail grocery stores and combined full-line supermarket and discount merchandisers including warehouse retail establishments. The discussion is intended primarily for grocery store managers and store employees, but may also be useful for corporate managers or corporate safety professionals. OSHA did not develop these guidelines to address warehouses, convenience stores, or business operations that may be located within grocery stores, such as banks, post offices, or coffee shops. However, operations in retail or distribution that involve similar tasks or operations as those addressed in these guidelines may find the information useful.

The information in these guidelines provides grocery stores with effective approaches, as well as useful references to be used when determining the need for ergonomic solutions. The recommendations and information presented here are intended as a general guideline and flexible framework to be adapted to the needs and resources of each individual store. OSHA recognizes that small employers, in particular, may not have the need for as comprehensive a program as would result from implementation of every action and strategy described in these guidelines. Additionally, OSHA realizes that small grocery stores may need assistance to implement an appropriate ergonomics program. That is why OSHA emphasizes the availability of its free consultation service for smaller employers.

The heart of these guidelines is the description of various solutions that have been implemented by grocery stores. OSHA recommends that grocery stores consider these solutions in the context of a systematic process that includes the elements described in the pages that follow. Such a process will make it more likely that the solutions implemented in a particular workplace are successful in reducing injures and are cost effective.

To develop these guidelines, OSHA reviewed existing ergonomic practices and programs in the grocery store industry and conducted site visits to observe existing programs in action. In addition, the Agency reviewed available scientific information regarding work activities that may benefit from ergonomic improvements and specific solutions. OSHA also conducted one-on-one and group meetings with major stakeholder groups to gather the best available information on typical workplace activities and on practices, programs and processes that have been used successfully in the grocery store industry.

These guidelines are advisory in nature and informational in content. They are not a new standard or regulation and do not create any new OSHA duties. Under the OSH Act, the extent of an employer's obligation to address ergonomic hazards is governed by the general duty clause. 29 U.S.C. 654(a)(1). An employer's failure to implement the guidelines is not a violation, or evidence of a violation of the general duty clause. Furthermore, the fact that OSHA has developed this document is not evidence of an employer's obligations under the general duty clause; the fact that a measure is recommended in this document but not adopted by an employer is not evidence of a violation of the general duty clause. In addition, the recommendations contained herein were developed with the idea that they could be adapted to the needs and resources of each individual place of employment. Thus, implementation of the guidelines may differ from site to site depending on the circumstances at each particular site.


(1) Food Marketing Institute. 1992. Ergonomic Improvement of Scanning Checkstand Designs. Washington, D.C.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

Updated on: 12/10/09
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Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders: Introduction
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Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders: Introduction

Some grocery store work can be physically demanding. In the grocery store industry the presence of risk factors increases the potential for injuries and illnesses.
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