Cashier ergonomics: An overlooked way to save on compensation costs

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there are over 3.3 million cashiers working in America. Although retail workers are a vital part of a consumer-based economy, cashiers tend to be overlooked when it comes to workplace safety and risk management. The majority of these workers have to stand and perform repetitive tasks for between six and eight hours a day, which can lead to strained muscles, carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress problems.

Ergonomic factors of cashier workstations should be a top priority for store owners. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration issued comprehensive guidelines that aimed to reduce workplace injuries and the cost of resulting employer compensation. By implementing these procedures, workers spend fewer days away from work. Factors addressed by these guidelines are related to the worker's standing position, area of movement, foot placement and physical labor.

Poor ergonomics can lead to back pain
The University of Washington performed a study in which they found that the height of a checkout station played a role in occurrences of lower back pain: the lower the checkout station, the greater the pain. This was specifically true when a cashier was above average height. Tall workers were at a greater risk of experiencing chronic pain.

Back pain could be mitigated by introducing a high seat or cushioned stool on which the cashier can lean or sit on throughout the day. Giving workers the option to alternate between standing and leaning is the best course of action. If cashiers must stand throughout their entire shift, they should have an anti-fatigue mat. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries recommended these mats because of a unique design that spreads out the force of the worker's foot against the floor. This reduces strain on the worker's feet, legs and back.

When a cashier was above average height, that worker was at a greater risk of experiencing chronic pain.

Repetitive tasks can cause chronic problems
Much of a cashier's daily work is repetitive, whether it is scanning items or bagging groceries. If there isn't enough space in which to perform these tasks or if the equipment is improperly maintained, cashiers can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff injuries or tendonitis. In a 2003 Bureau of Labor and Statistics report, the government found that 73 percent of injuries were caused by motion related repeated trauma.

To mitigate these types of injury, the cashier's work should be limited to a specific zone that extends from shoulders to waist. OSHA recommended that cashiers limit their arm motion to positions lower than shoulder height. In other words, front-end cashiers should rarely need to bend over or reach for items above their head. Twisting to get items from the conveyor belt or to put items into bags should also be limited.

"Front-end cashiers should rarely need to bend over or reach for items above their head."

The future of cashier ergonomics
There are many things an employer can do to manage the risk of his or her employees receiving an injury at work. Proper training and equipment are two of the best ways to stop injuries from happening – but there's always room for improvement. At the Georgia Institute of Technology, a graduate student in the field of industrial design proposed a plan for a new type of cashier workstation. The student compiled all of OSHA's guidelines and used a mass of research data to design an adjustable workstation. By being adjustable, employees of any height or ability can comfortably work without having to strain or twist uncomfortably. Even workers in wheelchairs could easily use the station.

Going forward, employers will be ever more cognizant of the importance of ergonomic factors. Already many American companies are taking measures to reduce previously overlooked workplace injuries.

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