A study highlighted that food workers involved in product movement are at a higher risk of injury and death than workers in other industries. The findings published in the Journal of Safety Research highlight the unique hazards of working in food manufacturing, wholesaling and retail, and how the pandemic increased the likelihood of workplace accidents.
The Penn State University researchers used a database maintained by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate all severe injuries in six years (2015 to 2020) in the food supply chain. The analysis found that 1,084 severe injuries and 47 fatalities happened during this time period, but actual figures may be twice as high. Data indicated a significant spike in severe injuries in 2020.
The pandemic significantly changed traditional food preparation methods, packaging, and transport, and the researchers suspect that these changes placed greater pressure on the workers in the food supply chain.
The researchers suspect the high hazard rates may also be attributed to the reliance on a synergistic packaging system. These systems are designed to load and transport food products within and between manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers, and food products are often aggregated and transported after they have been packaged. This system requires potentially dangerous methods, machinery (forklift, pallet jack, etc.), and equipment (pallets, skids, crates, etc.).
The researchers reported that fractures of the lower extremities were the most prevalent injury. The most frequent accident event type was transportation-related or pedestrian-vehicle incidents.
The research team used a narrow definition of a grocery store or a food retailer. Therefore, large retailers such as Target and Walmart that sell groceries, as well as other products, were not included in the research.
The researchers acknowledged the sacrifices of blue-collar food industry workers in meeting food supply chain demands during a global crisis.
Sources: Eureka News Alert, Journal of Safety Research, Penn State University,