Keep Packages on Schedule with Occupational Health in Warehousing

Andrew Berry06/13/2022

When a consumer in the continental United States wants to buy a product online, they can almost always select to have it arrive at their doorstep in 48 hours or less. Unless what they’re ordering is customized or sold by a company based overseas, they can typically count on a van driving up to their address in two days. In many major cities, some products are even available with same-day shipping. 

As easy as it seems for the consumer, there are many intricate moving parts required to ensure fast delivery. Advanced technology, expert tracking, and an army of machines help a package reach a consumer’s door on time - but it’s the employees working in warehousing who are biggest factor behind lightning-quick delivery times. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth

Warehousing experienced a boom during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 1,785,800 Americans employed in the warehousing industry in April 2022. This is a rise of more than one million employees since 2012 and an increase of 600,000 since the same month in 2019. E-commerce spiked over 50 percent during the pandemic, and many of the gains experienced during the last two years are expected to be permanent.1 The number of employees in the warehousing industry should continue to grow despite the nascent threat of automation on the horizon.2 

Warehousing jobs offer stability, good pay, and benefits. As of March 2022, BLS average earnings for warehouse employees stood at $22.74, nearly triple the federal minimum wage.3 Additionally, many warehousing employers provide health insurance, 401k plans, and other perks.

But warehousing jobs can also be dangerous, with 213,100 warehouse-related injuries reported in 2020.4 In addition to the obvious safety concerns that come with loading trucks, picking merchandise, and moving large equipment in busy areas, the surge of new employees and annual flow of seasonal workers can increase risks at the worksite as they adjust to their new jobs. In 2021, the annual turnover rate for the industry stood at 43 percent.5 Any employer will tell you that the cost of losing employees, especially seasoned veterans, goes well beyond direct expenses.

By partnering with an established occupational health provider like Concentra®, employers can create a culture of safety to reduce injuries that benefits all employees.

Ready to succeed

Across all industries, new employees are five times more likely to be injured on the job than their more experienced counterparts, and 40 percent of work-related injuries involve employees with less than a year of tenure at their current position.6 It’s normal that new employees may suffer more injuries – no matter how much training a person receives, they can’t truly learn how to do their job safely until they’re out on the floor working. There are many ways that employers can help prepare their employees for a new job, including shadowing, live training, trial periods, and mentorship programs. But when employees will be controlling large product carts and lifting heavy boxes are going to be a core part of a new employee’s duties, pre-employment tests like human performance evaluations (HPEs) are key. HPEs are designed to test a prospective employee’s ability to perform certain actions that will be a part of their new job responsibilities.

During an HPE, a clinician or therapist will review the potential employee’s medical and occupational records to look for any red flags or potential job functions they may not be able to perform. This is followed by a medical exam and an evaluation of functional tasks, such as the ability to lift a certain amount of weight or push an object of a particular size or weight.

Concentra HPEs are performed by licensed therapists using our proprietary ADApt® program. ADApt uses the same testing criteria for every applicant and ensures that the therapist only tests for things that will keep an employee from safely performing the job. The therapist creates the HPE by completing an on-site functional job analysis to observe and objectively measure the essential job functions for a specific position.7 The HPE will be evaluated by employer supervisors before it can be used. These stringent but equitable testing requirements keep employers ADA compliant.

Research has found that pre-employment testing leads to fewer work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and lost workdays while lowering employee turnover. For every $1 spent on testing and human performance evaluations, employers save around $18.

Musculoskeletal disorder prevalence

MSDs are one of the most common types of injuries associated with warehousing. According to BLS statistics, transportation and warehousing (which are grouped together for this injury statistic), see the highest incidence rate and second highest median days missed from work due to MSDs.8 Furthermore, material movers and order fillers are both included in the top four job positions for the number of injuries involving musculoskeletal disorders. Musculoskeletal injuries occur twice as frequently in the warehousing industry as in general private industry, with 78.1 and 35.5 injuries respectively per 10,000 workers.9

MSDs, which typically occur in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the extremities, are often caused by overexertion, repetitive motion, or improper movement during an activity, like bending or reaching. Many warehouse employees perform daily activities that expose them to at least one of these risk factors, if not all three. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identifies receiving unit loads, picking cases from a pallet or other unit load, and picking individual items from a case as warehouse job duties that put employees at high risk of developing an MSD.10 The risks associated with these activities rise with extreme temperatures (hot or cold), heavy items, and items placed below the waist or above the shoulder.

An established occupational health provider should work with physical therapists and athletic trainers who are well-versed in the risks MSDs present. MSD prevention is a multi-pronged approach that looks to improve employee health and knowledge about how to perform a job safely and efficiently:

  • Employee health: Healthy employees have a reduced risk of injury. Therapists or athletic trainers teach employees the importance of exercise and how to exercise safely in relation to their current health.
  • Stretching: Employees need to prepare their bodies for physical work. Customized warm-up and stretching programs created by an expert can lower the risk of MSDs and spinal disorders.
  • Education: Many safe tasks turn into a risk when employees aren’t trained on proper techniques or how to protect their bodies from strain. Injury prevention education programs, including seminars and train-the-trainer programs, teach safe techniques and wellness. Ergonomic programs, which can include an evaluation of your worksite, recommend specific ways to protect employee safety based on present risk factors.

Inviting a therapist or athletic trainer onsite goes beyond employee safety to create a culture where employees feel their health is a priority. This type of safety culture can improve morale and further bolster health and wellness in the workplace. Concentra offers physical therapist and athletic trainer services as an independent service and as a component of our onsite packages. Our models offer differing levels of service and injury intervention to fit your budget while still providing excellent care for your employees.

Conclusion

Warehousing will continue to grow as the public demands fast shipping times and e-commerce continues to occupy a large portion of the shopping ecosystem. Warehouse operators and employers, no matter what they are storing and shipping, can lean on the expertise of an established occupational health provider to match employees with the right jobs and keep them healthy for the long term. Learn how you and your employees may benefit by contacting an occupational health expert today.


NOTES

  1. Pandemic means more warehouses, more warehouse automation and more micro-fulfillment,” American Journal of Transportation, June 22, 2021.
  2. Can Warehouse Automation Make the Picker's Job Better?” by Terri Coles. IT Pro Today, April 22, 2020.
  3. Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 22, 2022.
  4. Warehouse Injuries are Rising in 2021 – Here’s what you can do,” Dalmec North America, May 25, 2021.
  5. The 'Real' Cost of High Warehouse Turnover Rates,” Kane Logistics, February 17, 2022.
  6. The Risks with New Employees and What to Do About Them?” By John Braun. Simplified Safety, n.d.
  7. What You Need to Know About Pre-Employment Testing,” by Michelle Hopkins. Concentra, December 14, 2020.
  8. Fact Sheet – Occupational injuries and illnesses resulting in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs),” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020.
  9. Warehousing” OSHA, n.d.
  10. Ergonomics for Warehousing and Logistics – A Look at Worker Safety and Comfort,” by Dr. Kevan Orvitz. Workplace Material Handling and Safety, August 21, 2019.