Overexertion injuries are common within the retail grocery industry and can be very costly for supermarket owners. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47,920 overexertion-related injuries occurred at grocery stores throughout the United States from 2003 through 2007. And Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.'s 2007 Workplace Safety Index ranked overexertion as the leading cause of disabling injuries in the workplace. In 2005, the insurance agency notes, overexertion injuries resulted in $12.7 billion in direct costs to U.S. employers. Overexertion injuries occur when the physical forces required to perform a task exceed the tolerances of the body's soft tissues. Overexertion injuries generally result in either strains or sprains - often to the shoulders and back. Typically, these types of injuries are associated with heavy lifting, repeatedly bending at the waist, bending at the waist while twisting the body, working while bent over at the waist, pushing/pulling heavy dollies, carrying, reaching, long-term poor posture while sitting or standing, and absorbing vibration through the body while sitting (such as while driving a truck). Tips for Supermarket Owners The following are some tips to assist you in reducing the risk of costly overexertion injuries at your grocery store: Have each supervisor identify the tasks in his or her area that could result in overexertion injuries. Encourage each supervisor at the beginning of his or her shift to scan the store, the aisles and the backroom to identify potential hazards for employees and customers, and follow up to ensure all hazards are removed or fixed. Determine whether there are ways to modify the work environment or change how tasks are performed to reduce the identified risks. Examples may include locating cash drawers within easy horizontal reach, using front-facing checkstands to reduce twisting motions and extended reaches to the side, requiring employees to use carts to carry all bags and groceries outside the store, providing kneelers or stools for employees who work at low shelves for long periods of time, and rearranging the way items are stocked on shelves so heavy items and fast-moving items are stored between knee and shoulder level (your customers will also appreciate this). Require employees to use a lifting device or get help from a co-worker for heavy loads, or to use an appropriate dolly to move products. Research has shown that a person's risk for back injury increases when he or she lifts or carries a load that weighs 50 pounds or more, particularly when the load is awkward to handle or is too large to hold close to the body. Provide lifting devices such as carts, rolling stands, hand trucks and forklifts to assist workers. Also, make sure all lifting devices are in good condition. For example, make sure the wheels of carts are in good repair so the carts aren't difficult to push. Regularly train your employees in safe lifting techniques and other techniques designed to reduce overexertion injuries. "Tailgate" safety training (weekly five- to 10-minute oral training on a single safety topic) is a good way to reinforce such items as safe lifting procedures. Be sure to document all training and to train in a language and manner your workers understand. Reward employees who "work smart" and avoid injuries. Recognize the different physical capacities and work experiences of your staff, and plan work tasks accordingly.