holiday e-commerce sale on laptop screen; consider the safety of e-commerce workers

E-Commerce is going to surge this holiday season. Are you thinking about the workers?

By Madison Hanscom, PhD

Online shopping has become a regular part of the holiday season. It is more convenient than ever to send gifts across the globe from retailers we trust. Recently we have experienced an added benefit to online shopping — social distancing. Now we can rely on home delivery to avoid contact with crowds of people on Black Friday, Super Saturday, Boxing Day, and after Christmas sales. Although this certainly brings a lot of positives, there are important considerations when it comes to occupational safety.

Behind every package on someone’s front step, there are several workers who made it happen. There are workers shipping to fulfillment centers, operating tractor trailers, working on conveyor belts, driving forklifts, weighing boxes, taking inventory, organizing products, moving boxes, loading trucks, unloading trucks, and delivering packages. It is an involved process!

E-commerce experts are predicting a massive surge of deliveries this holiday season, and it is important to think about the hazards this creates for warehouse and delivery workers. There are steps we can take as employers and as individuals to support these individuals during this hectic time.

What are the safety risks that this can create for warehouse and delivery workers?

• Fatigue. During busy times, sleep is often the first thing to be sacrificed in order to accomplish the to-do list. Unfortunately, any time sleep is compromised, this has major safety implications. Fatigue is an extremely dangerous mental state.
• Musculoskeletal issues. This type of work is physical, and it can involve a great deal of lifting, shifting, and moving objects. This creates potential for issues like sprains, strains, carpal tunnel, and other musculoskeletal concerns.
• Distracted driving. When drivers are experiencing pressure, they can feel more distracted behind the wheel. This can lead to increased accidents because they can be less likely to monitor blind spots, maintain the right speed, and sustain sharp attention to the road.
• Environmental risks. Depending on where these workers are spending time, there can be a variety of hazards in the environment that may present safety concerns such as inclement weather, dog bites, insect stings, or potential exposure to improperly labelled chemicals. Slips, trips, and falls are also a major concern for this work population.
• Illness. Until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, illness will be another serious hazard for workers this holiday season.

What can employers do to make e-commerce safer for employees?

• Plan ahead. During busy times it is critical for employers to plan ahead for any anticipated bumps in the road. This likely will include hiring more seasonal workers than usual and implementing job rotation to avoid repetitive, strenuous movement.
• Rigorous sanitation practices. Practices should be taken to ensure workers are free from illness. Encourage workers to stay at home if they are sick, require masks, and provide sanitizer in break rooms, warehouses, and vehicles. As always, follow CDC guidelines.
• Ease up on pressure. When workers feel crunched for time, they might be more likely to overlook safety precautions in order to get the job done. Ensure the time limitations set for workers are extremely realistic so they do not feel pressure to put production above safety. People need to feel empowered to take care of their physical health (e.g., take an extra minute to use handling equipment like a dolly to move a heavy package) and mental health (e.g., take an extra 5-minute break to do deep breathing).
• Efforts to manage fatigue. During this busy time it is likely employees will be working overtime, picking up extra shifts, or working different hours than usual. Employers must consider ways to help their people manage fatigue. This can include screening tools to detect exhaustion, job rotation to avoid prolonged depleting work, and breaks.
• Mental health support. Workers can experience overload and stress during busy times. It is important for employers to build and sustain a climate that supports mental health. Share resources with workers, listen to feedback, schedule time to check in, ensure leaders are modelling healthy behavior, and improve communication.
• Educate about cell phone use while driving. Researchers have demonstrated time and time again that using a cell phone while driving contributes to a significant increase in driving accidents. Educate employees on the dangers of distracted driving and reward employees’ safe behavior.
• Encourage reporting. During difficult times in particular, employees must feel comfortable to report near misses and incidents without fear of blame or punishment. This allows the company to improve the system to reduce hazards in the future.
• Listen. It is important for employers to check in with employees to ensure the hazards are controlled and the requirements are manageable. Leaders must be accessible, visible, and supportive to have a strong and mature safety culture.

What can the average person do?

• Plan ahead and anticipate delays. Because this will likely be the busiest season for e-commerce of all time, there will be delays. Order early so your deliveries will be on schedule, and this also will help prevent an onslaught of orders for these workers to deal with at one time.
• Practice rigorous hygiene. Depending on who you will be interacting with, follow sanitation guidelines to protect delivery workers. For instance, sanitize your hands before and after visiting a package locker. You might also opt-in for contactless delivery options where applicable.
• Express your appreciation! It is great to support businesses during this time. For small companies in particular, your online orders might be what is keeping the lights on. Find ways to express thanks to the workers who are behind the parcels you’ll receive this holiday season.

At Propulo Consulting, we care about the health and wellbeing of all workers. We partner with you to help leadership build core competencies for exceptional safety engagement. Our team has the expertise to help your business build a safer and healthier culture. For more information regarding this topic, read about Safety & Safety Culture at Propulo Consulting


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