Workplace safety is important in every industry. While there are some industries — like construction or automotive — where the difference it makes between life and death is obvious, there are other industries — such as retail — where it may not be seen as significant. However, safety is just as critical in the retail environment.
When retailers are dedicated to accident and injury prevention, they not only protect their employees but can also enhance both the employee and customer experience. For this reason, retailers are increasingly incorporating the power of safety management systems (SMS).
Beyond the sales floor
When most people think of retail, they picture a department in a retail store or restaurant. Those customer-facing employees must pay attention to safety. Slips, trips and falls are common injuries in retail. Beyond the public storefront, there are many workers behind the scenes. The stockroom clerks who drive forklifts with pallets or lift heavy boxes for curbside delivery. The cooks who prepare orders over hot burners. The customer service teams who repetitively type on computer keyboards as they handle calls and online orders.
And those customer-facing employees? In addition to the danger of slips, trips and falls, they also must be wary of exposure to infectious diseases, dangers on the shop floor and irate or even violent customers.
Since retail is such a broad industry, it is vital that retailers understand the different types of safety issues that various segments of their employees face. Even more critical, once retailers understand those issues, they need to get ahead of and prevent them.
Developing the big picture for safety
When a retail employee has an accident, an incident report is typically filled out, which is then reviewed by leadership to determine what led to the accident and how to avoid it in the future. These reports are often done with pen and paper or put into a spreadsheet. However, these conventional methods don't provide the insight needed to identify trends or hot spots that can be instrumental in reducing risk.
"A safety management system that tracks injuries across all facets of the retail business and across locations, helps businesses recognize and correct issues quickly," proposed Kirsty Graham, SMS Director of Customer Operations for HSI, an industry leader for safety and training for businesses.
Graham recalled how employees at one HSI retail client, a large international chain, reported injuries on individual pieces of paper after using a new grill that wasn't closing properly. "Burns were happening, but since the injuries occurred at different locations, leaders didn't know the malfunctions were very widespread," she said. "But after changing their process to log incidents into a digital SMS and seeing aggregate data from all locations via the SMS reporting engine, they sent out a safety alert to replace the equipment with a different brand instead." Having the data to see where and why safety problems occur is key to being proactive in reducing accidents.
No accident is "minor"
An accident or injury doesn't have to be life-threatening to be costly. The top 10 causes of workplace injuries cost businesses in the U.S. more than $1 billion a week and the majority of these injuries are ones that can easily occur in a retail environment:
Falling to the same level
Falling to a lower level
Being hit by objects
Slipping or tripping without falling
Colliding with equipment or objects
Getting caught in equipment or machines
Repetitive motion involving microtasks
In addition to any financial cost to the employer, there is the physical and psychological cost to the employee. They must recover from the injury and reestablish trust that they'll be safe when they return to work. During that time, the team must fill in for or replace the absent employee, which is not always an easy task in a tight labor market.
Making safety more than a leader-driven initiative
While leaders should certainly be the ones to spearhead workplace improvements, everyone must be involved in creating a culture of safety. When employees identify safety issues, they need a quick and easy way to spotlight their concerns. "For most of our clients, using the SMS to identify 'near misses' is a critical element in creating a safer workspace as employees identify unsafe work practices before an accident occurs," said Graham. "This dramatically reduces incidents and improves business continuity."
Safety management systems serve as the ideal tool for that purpose, with simple forms and checklists that encourage employees to report a problem. SMS technology also includes a workflow component, enabling the information to go to the right person to address the problem quickly.
Creating better EX and CX with safety
Reducing accidents and injuries helps decrease absenteeism and increase productivity. A proactive approach helps meet ever-tightening regulatory compliance and legal obligations to avoid costly financial and reputation implications. And on top of that, a safety culture can boost employee engagement and retention. While that is a bonus in any industry, it is a necessity in retail, where research has shown that a better employee experience translates to a better customer experience. When employees feel their companies prioritize safety and wellbeing, employees invest more in the company, in the safety of their colleagues and the satisfaction of their customers.
As retailers look to reduce accidents and injuries, an SMS — such as HSI's configurable compliance and safety solution — is a valuable tool in creating a culture of safety and engagement that benefits employees on the sales floor and beyond.