Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Profiles in Safety and Health: Retail Grocery Stores

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Profiles in Safety and Health: Retail Grocery Stores

Article excerpt

This industry reported large numbers of work-related injuries and illnesses in store and warehouse operations; stock handlers and retail sales clerks sustained serious sprains, cuts, and other disabling disorders

"Customers had a tendency to stop shopping when the baskets became too full or too heavy." --Sylvan Goldman, on what prompted his design of the first shopping cart in the 1930's

Shopping carts, those common carriers traversing today's supermarket aisles, have provided clues to the changing character of grocery stores since the Great Depression. Back then, small one-person operations were the norm and customers shopped with small baskets or store operators filled their shopping lists. But by the early 1940's, larger food stores, commonly called supermarkets, were firmly established, featuring many self service departments, one-stop food shopping, selected nonfood items, and free parking.

By 1960, supermarkets accounted for a large majority of the Nation's food for home consumption, replacing the comer grocery as the primary outlet for family food shopping?

This article examines the recent injury and illness experience of the nearly 3 million workers currently employed in grocery stores, an industry with diverse settings that include convenience food stores, food markets, supermarkets, and the supporting operations run by large food retailers, such as fleets of trucks and cavemous warehouses.(2) The grocery store study is part of a Bureau of Labor Statistics series focusing on "highimpact" industries, which are defined as industries with the largest numbers of occupational injuries and illnesses, although not necessarily the highest incidence rates.(3)

According to a 1990 BLS survey, the grocery stores industry ranked third in total recordable injuries and illnesses, with 250,000 cases. Only nine industries reported at least 100,000 cases that year, according to the survey. (See table 1.) These industties, however, accounted for nearly 30 percent of the 6.8 million cases reported nationwide in 1990. Clearly, steady improvement in national figures on injury and illness experience on the job requires safer working conditions and work practices in high-impact and high-rate industries.

However, a trend to safer grocery stores is not evident from BLS survey results. The industry's injury and illness rate of 12.3 per 100 full-time workers in 1990 was much greater than the 8.1 rate for all retail trade and the 8.8 rate for private industry.4 Indeed, the rate for grocery stores had increased from 11.5 per 100 full-time workers in 1980. The increase reflected a larger rise in the industry's injury and illness cases (39 percent) than in its hours of exposure to such risks (30 percent).

Persistently high readings of lost worktime underscore the lack of improvement in the industry's safety record. Approximately 40 percent of the 1990 injury and illness cases recorded for grocery stores--slightly more than 100,000--were serious enough to require workers to take time off from their jobs, be restricted to light duties, or work a shortened schedule. (See appendix.) The rate of such lost workday incidents was 5.2 per 100 workers in 1990, about the same as the 5.1-percent rate that occurred in 1980. In fact, recuperation time from disabling incidents in which work time was lost increased by 4 workdays over the 10 years, averaging 20 lost workdays per lost workday case in 1990.

The industry at a glance

Grocery stores are the dominant retailers of food for home preparation and consumption. Sales totaled $285 billion, about 95 percent of total food store sales reported in 1987, the latest census year for retail trade.(5) In 1990, grocery stores employed 90 percent of the Nation's 3.2 million workers in the food store industry, with the balance working primarily in retail bakeries and, to a lesser extent, in specialty food stores (establishments that sell only one product--meats, vegetables, or dairy products--for example). …

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