New and young worker blitz: 8 tips specifically for retailers

May 09, 2014

young retail workerRetail operations figure prominently in the Ministry of Labour's recently announced young and new worker inspection blitz, taking place May through August. "There's a good reason for that," says Andrew Moffett, a WSPS consultant with extensive retail experience. "There is a general perception among the public of retail being safe. You also encounter this among employees, supervisors and store managers."

But retail isn't necessarily safe. The hazards are diverse, such as slips, trips and falls, cutting injuries, violence and harassment, and musculoskeletal disorders. Moreover, people are being injured. In 2012, the WSIB accepted 507 lost-time claims from clothing store employees, 269 from pharmacies, and 144 from grocery and convenience stores.

Hence, the ministry's continued focus on retail workplaces during its annual young and new worker blitzes. During last year's blitz, ministry inspectors issued 2,119 orders, including 37 stop work orders, to 608 retail workplaces. That works out to 3.5 orders per visit. What would an inspector find in your workplace?

These claims and compliance figures are a strong argument for creating a health and safety culture that keeps employees safe and productive. Here are eight tips from Andrew Moffett on how to protect your vulnerable workers and get on top of MOL blitz priorities.

  1. Identify the hazards in your workplace. If you don't know the hazards, you can't control them, you can't train workers to protect themselves, and you can't anticipate and prepare for a ministry inspection.

  2. Provide new workers with thorough orientation training. Delivering the training is just the start. Have they grasped it? Are they able to apply it? Try this: tell them how to do it, show them how to do it, and then watch them do it. Also, keep records. An inspector will want to know what the training covers, who's taken it, and if they have understood the training and are applying it.

  3. Review how you set up displays or store products. Are employees doing it properly? Does it comply with legal requirements? Is this evident in your training? Many big box stores have 40-foot ceilings and display product up to the roof joists. They’re basically retail warehouses. So how do employees, especially young and new workers, get the product up and down from there? Do they have the right equipment? Is it properly maintained? Are the employees maintaining 3-point contact at all times? An inspector will want to know this.

  4. Inspect your shelving and racking systems. Are racks properly bolted to the floor? Are loads uniformly distributed? If you've made significant changes to the racking - cuts, welds or slices - do you have did an engineer conduct and document a Pre-Start Health and Safety Review (PSR)?

  5. Role-play responding to angry customers. Retail employees are highly susceptible to harassment from customers. Do the employees know how to deal with these customers?

  6. Observe loading dock activity: Have employees been trained on using pump trucks and skids? Are they wearing proper personal protective equipment such as steel-toed footwear?

  7. Observe employees using heavy equipment, such as garbage compactors, cardboard balers, deli slicers, meat grinders, band saws, bakery ovens, dough mixers and any other machinery that could cause injuries. Are moving parts and pinch points properly guarded?

  8. Conduct your own blitz inspection. Ask employees questions that an inspector might ask, such as where's the MSDS binder? What would they do if a customer becomes angry or aggressive? How would they get that product down from the shelf? If employees can't answer the question correctly, you’ve got your topic for the next safety talk.

WSPS can help

For small retail business owners, Closing the Loop: Setting up a Health & Safety System in Your Small Business guides you through all the requirements of a health and safety program. WSPS also offers small business an e-brochure and e-flyer with live links to key resources.

For retailers of any size, WSPS also offers a full range of hazard- and issue-specific resources on such topics as new worker orientation, hazard assessments, ladder safety, vulnerable workers, violence and harassment, and much more.

As well, WSPS consultants such as Andrew Moffett can provide custom consulting and training services.