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Top Safety Hazards for Retail Employers and How to Prevent Them

Published by and on March 27, 2018

Employers who are unable to show that they have a safety program in place not only place their employees at risk, but also place themselves at risk of incurring monetary penalties. Here are the top five risks that retail employers face.

Mention of the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration usually brings to mind factories, plants, and manufacturing facilities. In fact, OSHA regulations cover much more than this, including retail spaces, which can present a number of different safety issues, including proper storage, cleanliness, upkeep of utilities, and workplace violence issues. Companies with retail locations probably already spend time thinking about these issues, but may not be aware that their compliance is regulated by OSHA.

How does your retail space score on safety? This post lists the top safety concerns in a retail environment and gives practical suggestions for preventing them.

1. Blocked Exit Route / Locked Exit Door

Click the link above for OSHA regulations related to Exit Routes and Exit Doors. Retail employers should know that exit routes should be free and unobstructed at all times and should not go through a room that can be locked, like a bathroom or into a dead end corridor. Stairs or a ramp must be provided when the exit route is not substantially level.

Exit routes must be clearly visible and marked by a sign reading “Exit.” Similarly, doors and passageways that could be mistaken for an exit should be marked “Not an Exit”.

It is easy in a retail facility for compliance with these requirements to fall by the wayside. All employees must be trained that they should never place inventory or other supplies in front of or blocking an exit route.

2. Trip Hazards

Click the link above for OSHA regulations related to Walking and Working Surfaces. Retail employers should know that all areas of employment are required to be kept in a clean, orderly and sanitary condition, and free of hazards. Employers are also required to maintain all walking-working surfaces by inspecting them regularly and repairing when necessary.

Retailers should train their employees that it is never appropriate to leave inventory, supplies, or materials in the aisle or anywhere else they do not belong. Storing extra inventory on the end of the aisle, or inside a bathroom or hallway is not appropriate because it could constitute a trip hazard.

3. Unsafe Storage / Unstable Load

Click the link above for OSHA regulations related to Materials Handling and Storage. Retail employers should know that bags, containers, bundles, etc. of materials or inventory should be stacked and stored only to a height that they are stable and secure against sliding or collapsing.

Retailers should train their employees on safe stacking and storage of boxes and inventory and should consider using signs to mark maximum heights.

4. Fire Extinguishers

Click the link above for OSHA regulations related to Portable Fire Extinguishers provided for employee use. Retail employers should know that they must comply with these requirements unless they have a written fire safety policy that requires the immediate and total evacuation of employees from the workplace upon a fire alarm signal, as well as an emergency action plan and a fire prevention plan which meet the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.38 and 29 CFR 1910.39 respectively, and they do not provide fire extinguishers in the workplace.

If fire extinguishers are provided, they must be mounted in a location where they are readily accessible and visible to employees and must be maintained in a fully charged and operable condition. Employers should be aware that the regulations specify certain requirements that extinguishers must meet to be approved to be provided to employees and also list certain types of extinguishers which may not be provided to employees. Employers are required to provide adequate training to employees so they are familiarized with general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with attempting to fight a fire.

5. Workplace Violence Policies

There are currently no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence; however, the General Duty Clause (linked above) requires that employers provide a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm.”

According to OSHA’s Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments, workplace violence is a real danger for retail establishments, particularly grocery and convenience stores, banks, liquor and beer stores, restaurants, and other stand-alone retail buildings due to factors like the exchange of money, solo work and isolated work sites, the sale of alcohol, poorly lit areas, and the lack of staff training in recognizing and managing escalating hostile and aggressive behavior. Of course, it could just as easily be an issue during the day as well, and therefore all employers are encouraged to create an effective violence prevention policy.

Retail employers are encouraged to read the OSHA guidance document linked above, as it is invaluable; however, the following is a brief summary of actions an employer can take to reduce the likelihood of workplace violence.

  • Establish a clear policy that violence, including verbal and non-verbal threats, of any kind is prohibited.
  • Encourage employees to promptly report any incidents and ensure no employee is retaliated against for doing so.
  • Establish a safety plan that maintains security in the workplace. Ensure all employees know how to react in the event of a threat, including an active shooter. The plan should include who will contact law enforcement and should assign responsibility for other tasks to appropriate personnel.
  • Conduct an analysis of the worksite and determine environmental and operational risks for violence. For example, the analysis could determine whether there have been any robberies in recent years, or whether unruly customers are a problem. Employers are encouraged to work with an attorney and a safety consultant to determine what measures can be taken to reduce risk, such as improving lighting, installing video surveillance (and signs indicating that cameras are recording), using mirrors, and installing an alarm system.

Welter Insight

Employers who fail to take measures to ensure their employees are safe from violence or other unsafe conditions risk a citation from OSHA. OSHA may instigate an inspection following an incident or upon an employee complaint. Employers who are unable to show that they have a safety program in place not only place their employees at risk, but also place themselves at risk of incurring monetary penalties.

Take note that the biggest OSHA citations and penalties come from “repeat” violations and a company can receive a citation for a repeat violation even if the violation occurs at a different facility under different supervision. Companies that operate multiple facilities in different locations are particularly at risk of receiving a repeat violation because of this. As of January 2, 2018, citations for a repeat or willful violation can be up to $129,336 per violation!

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