Ergonomics: Process of Protecting Workers

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

Many of the recommendations below are practices taken from workplace ergonomics and safety programs that grocery stores have developed and that OSHA observed while performing site visits at grocery stores. They are intended to provide a flexible framework that a grocery store manager can adapt to an individual store. In many grocery stores, ergonomics, other employee safety and health efforts, workers' compensation, and risk management are integrated into a single program that is usually administered by the same staff. OSHA recommends that employers develop a process for systematically addressing ergonomics issues in their facilities, and incorporate this process into an overall program to recognize and prevent occupational safety and health hazards.

Store and company management personnel should consider the general steps discussed below when establishing and implementing an ergonomics program. It should be noted, however, that each store will have different needs and limitations that should be considered when identifying and correcting workplace problems. Different stores may implement different types of programs and activities and may assign different staff to accomplish the goals of the ergonomics program.

Provide Management Support
Management support for reducing MSDs and communicating support to employees is very important. You have already demonstrated your interest in reducing MSDs by reading these voluntary guidelines. Management support improves the grocery store's ability to maintain a sustained effort, allocate needed resources, and follow up on program implementation. OSHA recommends that employers:

• Develop clear goals,

• Express the company's commitment to achieving them,

• Assign responsibilities (training, job analysis, etc.) to designated staff members to achieve those goals,

• Ensure that assigned responsibilities are fulfilled, and

• Provide appropriate resources.

Meaningful efforts by management also improve employee participation, which is another essential element for achieving success.

Involve Employees
Employees are a vital source of information about hazards in their workplace. Employees help identify hazards and solve problems. Their involvement can enhance job satisfaction, motivation, and acceptance of workplace changes. There are many different ways employers can involve employees in their ergonomics efforts, including the following:

• Submit suggestions and concerns;
• Identify and report tasks that are difficult to perform;
• Discuss work methods;
• Provide input in the design of workstations, equipment, procedures and training;
• Help evaluate equipment;
• Respond to surveys and questionnaires;
• Report injuries as soon as they occur;
• Participate fully in MSD case investigations; and
• Participate in task groups with responsibility for ergonomics.

Identify Problems It is important to periodically review your job site and the activities of employees to identify possible ergonomic issues. This could include a review of OSHA 300 and 301 injury and illness information, workers' compensation records and employee reports of problems. You can also identify ergonomic issues by talking with employees and walking through the grocery store to observe employees performing their jobs. When reviewing the various jobs in the grocery store, pay particular attention to the risk factors listed below.

Force - the amount of physical effort required to perform a task (such as heavy lifting (1) , pushing or pulling), handle merchandise, or maintain control of equipment or tools;

Repetition - performing the same motion or series of motions continually or frequently for an extended period of time;

Awkward and static postures - assuming positions that place stress on the body, such as prolonged or repetitive reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, leaning over a counter, using a knife with wrists bent, or twisting the torso while lifting (4); and

Contact stress - pressing the body or part of the body (such as the hand) against hard or sharp edges, or using the hand as a hammer.

When there are several risk factors in a job, there can be a greater risk of injury. However, the presence of risk factors in a job does not necessarily mean that employees will develop an MSD. Whether certain work activities put an employee at risk of injury depends on the duration (how long), frequency (how often), and magnitude (how intense) of the employee's exposure to the risk factors in the activity (6). For example, performing cashier work for an extended period of time without a break has been associated with increased hand and wrist problems (7) and could contribute to back and lower limb problems. (8)

The grocery store industry has developed a number of protocols and checklists to assess work activities. For example, Figures 1 and 2 contain checklists grocery stores may use to help identify ergonomic concerns. The checklists include materials developed by the Food Marketing Institute (4) as well as materials developed by OSHA.

(1) There are varying opinions regarding the maximum amount of weight an employee should lift. OSHA does not make a specific recommendation in these guidelines regarding this maximum amount but notes that employers should take into account such considerations as the employees' physical abilities and the number of times a lift must occur. Industry groups such as the Grocery Manufactures of America and Food Marketing Institute encourage the use of containers or packages weighing 40 pounds or less. Another industry group, The International Mass Retail Association, suggests 50 pounds as a maximum weight for lifting.


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

(4) Food Marketing Institute. 1995. Working Smart in the Retail Environment - Ergonomics Guide. Washington, D.C.

(6) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 1997. Musculoskeletal Disorders and Workplace Factors - A Critical Review of Epidemiologic Evidence for Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders of the neck, upper extremity and low back. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication #97-141. (3-18)

(7) Kennedy, S. et al. 1992. "Prevalence of muscle-tendon and nerve compression disorders in the hand and wrist of a working population of grocery cashiers using laser scanners." Occupational and Environmental Disease Research Unit, University of British Columbia. March 15.

(8) Ryan, G. Anthony, "The prevalence of musculo-skeletal symptoms in supermarket workers, Ergonomics, 1989, Vol. 32, No. 4, 359-371.

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

Updated on: 12/10/09
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Ergonomics: Risk Factor Checklist
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Ergonomics: Risk Factor Checklist

Checklist for identifying potential ergonomic risk factors by workplace activity.
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