The supply chain tasked with moving food from manufacturers to retailers is critical for delivering basic necessities safely and in adequate quantities to consumers across the country. This has been shown as even more important during times of natural disasters and the coronavirus pandemic. But the complexities of the modern food supply chain present unique hazards to employees that result in higher morbidity and mortality rates versus other industries (Newman et al., 2012); this is especially relevant at times when the supply chain is under duress from anomalous conditions and labor shortages are magnified (Felix, Martin, Mehta, & Mueller, 2020). Food manufacturing employees experience higher fatal and nonfatal injury and illness rates versus those in the private industry as a whole, while also suffering from higher musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) than the overall manufacturing sector (Bhushan, 2011). Even the wholesaling and retailing of food products (i.e., supermarkets and grocery stores) results in relatively high numbers of occupational injuries (Anderson, Schulte, Novakovich, Pfirman, & Bhattacharya, 2020).
One reason for the unusual hazards may be the nature of how food products are aggregated and transported once they have been packaged, and the machinery, equipment and methods used to accomplish those tasks. Materials handling and movement within and between facilities is critical to the efficient functioning of all members of the food-related supply chain, but product movement can be a source of occupational injuries. For example, manufacturers often use palletizers to aggregate individually packaged food products into a unit load before they can be transported using a pallet jack, forklift, or other powered industrial truck (PIT). Food-related products could be unitized and transported using manual labor, but that presents its own ergonomic hazards.
In this paper, the term “product movement” is used somewhat synonymously with the typical “materials handling” terminology. Materials handling involves the lifting, movement, protection, storage, control, and placement of various kinds of materials. It can be done manually or using semiautomatic or automated equipment to move products from manufacturer to warehouse to retailer (Brauer, 2016). This research serves as an extension of past materials handling work by including transport packaging as a related source of injury.
Tertiary packaging, also known as transport packaging, is a key component of modern materials handling systems and includes pallets, skids, crates, and cartons. These methods for unitizing and transporting food products can present unique hazards to employees, but no previous research has examined the cause and result of such hazards. The purpose of this paper is to examine severe injuries caused by the use of transport packaging and related product movement in three segments of the food- and beverage-related supply chain. Much effort has been targeted at understanding and reducing slips, trips and falls and MSDs related to materials handling (e.g., Waters et al., 1993, Waters and Anderson, 2012, Svendsen et al., 2020), but this is the first known analysis of occupational injuries caused by or related to utilizing transport packaging and unitized loads in the food-related supply chain. OSHA’s current requirement for reporting severe occupational injuries did not take effect until January 1, 2015; thus, data of the type reported here did not exist prior to that date.
Food supply chain hazards
Components of the food-based supply chain that are depended on to get food from farm to table are known as some of the most hazardous for employees. From farms (Kica and Rosenman, 2020, Trávníček et al., 2022) to grocery retailers (Anderson & Chun, 2014), workers are faced with a variety of unique dangers. Even though there are significant hazards for farm and agricultural workers (Isaacs & Bean, 1995), including high fatality rates (Gorucu, Murphy, & Kassab, 2015), this paper did not consider
The authors used the severe injury report database submitted to federal OSHA to investigate all severe injuries related to transport packaging and its use in the six years from 2015 to 2020 for food and beverage-related industry segments (OSHA, 2022). OSHA currently requires employers to report all severe work-related injuries, defined as an amputation, in-patient hospitalization, or loss of an eye, but this requirement did not exist prior to January 1, 2015. The severe injury database provides
There were 1,084 injury incidents available in the OSHA Severe Injury Database from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2020. Table 3 provides a breakdown of these cases by industry segment. Grocery wholesalers and grocery retail stores saw the highest number of injuries, followed closely by the warehousing and storage groups.
Table 4 provides summary results for the 1,084 cases. The frequency of injuries generally trended higher across the years, with 2018 to 2020 being much higher than the first
This was the first research to investigate occupational injuries related to transport packaging and related product movement in the food supply chain. Severe injuries associated with product movement in three key segments of the food and beverage supply chain were analyzed to provide descriptions of the incidence and epidemiology of the injuries. Results suggest that the use of palletizers for unitizing and PITs for transporting food products present varied opportunities for employees to suffer
The relevance of employee health and safety to food supply chain functioning has recently been highlighted as product availability has not matched demand, due in large part to worker safety concerns (Felix et al., 2020). This is one of many reasons safety professionals and corporate management should be concerned about hazards encountered by workers in the food supply chain. This paper provides the first known analysis of severe injuries related to the aggregation and movement of products in
Judd Michael is the Nationwide Insurance Professor of Safety & Health in the Dept of Agricultural & Biological Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University. He has more than 20 years working with various industries on management best practices and safety enhancement. He has a BS (Business) and MBA from Texas A&M and a PhD from Penn State.
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