6 most common holiday workplace hazards

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Avoid these workplace hazards during the holidays

  1. Workplace hazards take a number of forms.
  2. From falls to heavy machinery incidents, employees can be severely injured, or even killed, on the job.
  3. Review these ways to prevent worksite injury and death.

Retail centers, warehouses and other labor-intensive workplaces are subject to a variety of hazards year-round. Some of these hazards become even more problematic around the holiday season as companies get busier. Here are the six most frequent holiday workplace hazards that employees can encounter on a daily basis.

1.   Slips, trips and falls

The workplace is full of hazards that can cause employees to fall and injure themselves. For instance, floors might become slippery from spills and residue, especially if customers are tracking in rain and snow around the holidays. Workers can also trip over boxes, pallets, wires, display items and many other objects lying around.

The statistics on slips, trips and falls demonstrate how easily these holiday workplace accidents can occur. According to the latest injury report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 850 work-related fatalities due to falls in 2021 (latest statistics available). Most of these deadly accidents occurred in warehouses and construction sites, but a handful also occurred in retail spaces and hospitality facilities.

In total, 211,650 employees were injured in a falling accident in 2020, and the injuries were severe enough to make most of them miss work. As a result, slip, trip and fall injuries have been the top contributors to missed work days and workers’ compensation claims almost every year.

Managers can reduce the risk of these accidents by enforcing strict cleanliness and organization policies. Everything must have assigned spots with proper signage so the work environment doesn’t get cluttered with tripping holiday workplace hazards.

Related: Agents, here’s how you can protect construction contractor clients

2.   Heavy machinery accidents

Heavy machinery accidents aren’t as common as slips, trips and falls, but they’re far more likely to be deadly. The BLS reported 1,982 fatal injuries from operating heavy machinery in 2021, which made up 38.2 percent of all workplace deaths that year. Forklifts are the most common machines involved in these accidents by far, which shows how dangerous retail and warehousing can be.

Operating forklifts becomes even more risky around the holidays when warehouses overflow with products and store traffic increases. You need to take some extra precautions during this crazy time of the year:

  • Perform inspections more often than usual.
  • Lower the required speed limit.
  • Enforce employee dress codes and make sure they’re not wearing long or loose clothing.
  • Never exceed the machine’s maximum weight capacity.
  • Use horns and alarms to alert nearby workers and customers.

Lack of visibility is the main cause of heavy equipment accidents, which is another reason to keep the workplace organized. Most of the time nothing is wrong with the equipment or the employee operating it, but the workplace itself creates an unsafe operating environment. You can minimize the risk of these accidents just by rearranging some high-traffic areas.

Related: Forklift operation safety [infographic]

3.   Exposure accidents

Exposure accidents include a few workplace hazards — electricity, extreme temperatures and harmful chemicals. The BLS reported a total of 798 fatalities from these hazards in 2021, and the average warehouse or retail center is full of them. Temperatures can also get dangerously high due to overcrowding around the holidays.

Even indirect exposure can cause or aggravate occupational illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonitis. Due to the wide range of threats, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emphasizes four key control methods to help employees avoid painful or lethal exposure:

  1. Elimination/substitution: Constantly update safety protocols with the intent to eliminate weak points and substitute them with safer alternatives.
  2. Engineering controls: Isolate hazardous areas and use wet cleaning or ventilation methods to prevent the build-up of particulate matter.
  3. Administrative and work practice controls: Rotate work schedules so no employee faces overexposure.
  4. Personal protective equipment: Equip all employees with PPE such as goggles, gloves, respiratory equipment and chemical protection suits.

There are many other simple ways to prevent exposure accidents and maintain a comfortable work environment. You could open the doors or crack the windows to improve airflow. Allowing employees to spend more time outside will also improve their safety and morale, and help you avoid a variety of holiday workplace hazards.

4.   Repetitive stress injuries

Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) are common, but it can be difficult to prove that they’re work-related. However, you should know that businesses in the U.S. spend $20 billion every year on workers’ compensation claims, employee turnover and lost productivity due to RSIs.

Helping employees avoid RSIs is a simple matter of attentiveness. If you pay attention to their well-being, you’ll know when they need to rest. You could also make some building renovations. For example, upgrading to ergonomic flooring will also help you create a sanitary and low-stress environment even in high-traffic conditions.

5.   Struck-by incidents

Struck-by incidents encompass a handful of hazards. Employees can be struck by a moving vehicle, a falling object or a flying object that was discharged from another device. These accidents cause more than 50,000 injuries every year, according to BLS reports. Even small objects like cell phones and radios can cause serious injury.

In retail spaces, customers also face the possibility of getting struck by a falling or flying object. Everyone in the building is at risk, which means you need to take extra precautions. Start by securing tools and equipment with clips, tie-downs and other devices. Then, you can implement catch platforms, debris nets or simple screens to block falling objects.

6.   Decoration fires

Fire hazards are a year-round problem thanks to paperwork, packaging, heavy machinery and other flammable materials. The influx of decorations around the holidays creates even more fire hazards, including Christmas trees, wrapping paper, seasonal candles and menorahs. Heavily stocked warehouses and retail centers are in constant danger of starting a fire.

In total, workplace fires cause about $56 million in annual property losses. Your workplace needs a few safety essentials, such as clearly marked emergency exits, multiple evacuation routes and fire extinguishers on every floor. You will also need to work harder to keep customers away from fire hazards as traffic increases during the holidays.

Related: Home maintenance tips for winter weather

Keep your employees safe this holiday season

Your employees go the extra mile to satisfy customers every holiday season, so you must also go the extra mile to keep them safe from holiday workplace hazards.

These six frequent holiday hazards are largely avoidable if you make the right adjustments and prioritize employee wellness. Improving workplace safety will also boost their morale and productivity for the holidays, making everyone happy in the end.