Profiles in Safety and Health: The Soft Drink Industry

By Personick, Martin E.; Harthun, Laura A. | Monthly Labor Review, April 1992 | Go to article overview

Profiles in Safety and Health: The Soft Drink Industry


Personick, Martin E., Harthun, Laura A., Monthly Labor Review


Soft drink drivers commonly sustain disabling injuries while delivering America's most popular beverages to retailers; the soft drink manufacturing industry has one of the highest rates of serious injuries and illnesses

"tonics in New England, soda water in Dixie, soda pop in the Mid West, and soft drinks in the Far West. Call them what you will, but drink your fill. "

-Advertising slogan, 1929

British scientist Joseph Priestley experimented two centuries ago with artificially carbonated water, unwittingly launching one of the Nation's most important food industries-soft drink manufacturing.'

Officially dubbed "bottled carbonated beverages" earlier this century, such effervescent drinks in the United States have taken on less formal, regional names. Whatever the name, soft drinks have become even more popular than milk or coffee. In 1989, Americans consumed, on average, 32 gallons of carbonated soft drinks per person-roughly the equivalent of 12 ounces each day of the year.1 This article focuses on the injuries and illnesses of workers who produce, stock, and deliver bottled and canned soft drinks and carbonated waters in the soft drink manufacturing industry.

Soft drink manufacturers continue to experience a high incidence of work place accidents and injuries. The industry's 1990 injury and illness rate of 21.5 per 100 full-time workers, for example, was well above the 13.2 rate in manufacturing as a whole and more than double the private industry rate, which was 8.8.3 In 1990, moreover, nearly three-fifths of the injury and illness cases in the soft drink industry were serious enough to require workers to take time off from their jobs or be assigned duties restricted to light work or a shortened schedule."

Illnesses and injuries that resulted in lost worktime in the soft drink industry took a variety of forms, depending largely on the job and its risks. Of special note were injuries to drivers-sales-workers, the industry's largest occupational group. Their injuries related primarily to manual material handling activities, such as unloading trucks filled with soda cans and bottles and carting and stacking the containers on customers' premises. By repeatedly maneuvering heavy loads, many soft drink drivers eventually sustained serious sprains and strains due to overexertion.1 The following sections examine some characteristics of soft drink manufacturing and analyze the injury and illness record of the industry in more detail.

The industry at a glance

The Nation's soft drink industry traces its roots to Philadelphia, PA, where Joseph Hawkins and Elias Durand began producing bottled soda waters in the early 1830's.1 Small bottling plants spread quickly to other localities (primarily in the East and Midwest) and by 1879, the Census of Manufactures counted 512 mineral and soda water factories employing a total of 3,000 workers. The bottled flavor of choice that year was ginger ale.[1]

Today, about 1,300 soft drink manufacturers, employing more than 100,000 workers, compete in a $25 billion market for nonalcoholic beverages.[9] In response to changing consumer tastes and needs, the soft drink market offers a broad selection of products in various shapes and sizes. Diet drinks, for example, were about one-fourth of all carbonated soft drinks shipped in bottles or cans in 1987-double their share 20 years earlier.[10] Also, the popularity of noncarbonated beverages (such as fruit drinks and bottled water) is on the rise, with such shipments in the soft drink industry valued at nearly $2.5 billion in 1987.[11] And used as soft drink packaging, cans surpassed glass and plastic bottles as the container of choice in the late 1980's. [12].

Once the dominant employer, many small bottlers have left the soft drink industry largely because they had difficulty adapting their operations to constantly changing products and packaging strategies. …

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