Lone Worker Safety and the Rise of eCommerce

By: Dr. Kevan Orvitz, Contributor

After a long and trying two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has transitioned from mass panic, constant flux and fear into a more relaxed understanding of the virus and its management. The chain reaction of events caused by the pandemic has resulted in a shift in societal values in the home and the workplace. For many, the pandemic has left scars of anxiety, depression and a feeling of disorientation about the future.

When the world started to lock down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers were forced to rely on the world of eCommerce to meet most of their needs. Sales in eCommerce have been booming in recent years, and the pandemic has only accelerated this trend. In 2020, eCommerce sales grew by 32% compared to the typical 14% annual growth pattern seen before the pandemic. This two-year growth from 2019 to 2021 was 50.5%.

The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the shift to online shopping, and it is likely this trend will continue even after it ends. With convenient delivery options and a wide selection of products, eCommerce offers a level of convenience that brick-and-mortar stores cannot match.

The eCommerce boom has led to increased demand for manufactured goods and faster turnaround times for orders. In response, many manufacturing facilities and warehouses have sped up production and reduced the time allowed for breaks or rest periods. This often results in longer shifts, more overtime, higher quotas and an increased demand on industrial personnel. The consequence of these changes is a rise in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as a result of overexertion in the workplace.

Rising Risk of MSDs for Lone Workers

The rise of eCommerce often results in longer shifts, more overtime, higher quotas and an increased demand on industrial personnel. This results in a rise in musculoskeletal disorders as a result of overexertion in the workplace. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock)

This negative chain reaction, i.e., longer work hours, more injuries and poor working conditions, leads to a labor shortage across the country. The end result is that eCommerce companies are forced to pay higher wages to attract and retain workers, which increases costs and reduces profits. In order to keep up with the competition, eCommerce companies need to find ways to reduce the number of MSDs among their employees.

One of the groups of workers most affected by this increasing workplace demands are lone workers. Lone workers are employees who work by themselves without close supervision. They may work in a variety of settings, including office buildings, retail stores, warehouses or in the field. While working alone can offer many advantages, it also comes with some risks.

Lone workers are at an increased risk of workplace accidents and injuries, because many of them face daily tasks that put them at risk for MSDs. For example, a delivery driver is a lone worker who faces multiple health and safety obstacles each and every shift.

Delivery drivers are expected to utilize a lot of physical force in order to successfully do their jobs. Force is the amount of effort our bodies must do to lift objects and move around. The greater the force, the more muscular effort required. Not only are delivery drivers expected to exert tremendous energy with force, but these physical movements can also create awkward postures.

When an individual moves their body outside of the body’s neutral position, they are exerting more muscular effort and decreasing functional stability at the joint site. This can lead to fatigue-induced pronation of the feet, which then increases joint stress at the knees, hips and lower back.

Not only are delivery drivers expected to cope with great force and awkward postures, but they do so through repetition. Their whole shift is a repetitive cycle of getting out of the vehicle; reaching for objects; lifting boxes and goods out of the truck; carrying them to their destination; and finally climbing back into the truck, only to start the process over shortly after. Repetition can be a traumatizing ergonomic hazard, because highly repetitive tasks and sustained static posture require continuous muscular effort—without providing sufficient rest time to the muscles.

Finally, all of these repetitive movements and high physical expectations can lead to a loss in balance. When a worker loses balance, it can lead to muscular strains as the body attempts to prevent a fall from occurring. Poor balance can be caused by both internal and external factors. Uneven work surfaces can lead to muscular strains as the worker attempts to prevent a fall. Even worse, lone workers usually do not have anyone to help them if something goes wrong

Ergonomic Solutions for Lone Workers

A delivery driver is a lone worker who faces multiple health and safety obstacles each and every shift. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock)

Businesses and manufacturers have a legal and moral obligation to protect their lone workers from health and safety hazards. As eCommerce continues to grow, so does the need for ergonomic solutions in the workplace. Employee safety must be a priority in order to prevent MSDs and boost morale. As employers, businesses have a duty to provide employees with a safe and healthy workplace. There are a few simple ergonomic solutions that can make a big difference in the workplace:

  • Encourage employees to take breaks often and move around periodically throughout the day. This will help reduce stiffness and fatigue.
  • Educate employees on proper ergonomic techniques, such as how to sit or stand properly at their desks. Seminars focused on active rest and the importance of movement are a great way to engage employees and get them thinking about their wellbeing. Posters showcasing ergonomically safe stretches that can be performed at the workstation are also a great way to remind employees to take care of their bodies. By taking these steps, companies can create a workplace that is not only safer, but also more productive and successful.
  • Provide lone workers with 100% dual-layer memory foam insoles which allow for shock-absorption, while triggering the muscle pump to improve blood flow throughout the body. Stabilizing the worker’s footwear can improve balance, dissipate force, and prevent slips, trips and falls. Utilizing 100% dual-layer memory foam insoles provides a more comfortable, ergonomic and anti-fatigue effect for all personnel.

Implementing these solutions will help create a safer, more comfortable workplace for employees and ultimately improve employee retention.

If the last two years have taught us anything, it is that we must value one another. As an organization, we must value the time, commitment and dedication each employee gives to the success of the organization. Using ergonomics as the foundation of a company’s continuous improvement strategy will lead to a safer, more engaged community of employees who are happy to return to work, year after year. Lone workers are a vital part of eCommerce and the modern workplace. It is our responsibility to take care of them and ensure they have the ergonomic solutions they need for injury prevention, safety and wellness.

About the Author:

Dr. Kevan Orvitz is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine and the Founder & President of MEGAComfort Inc. Dr. Orvitz and his revolutionary ergonomic designs have paved the way for employees to experience enhanced comfort, decreased pain and fatigue—thus creating a safer, more productive workplace. With over 20 years of experience in various industries, Dr. Orvitz has studied all aspects of biomechanics and the human body, specifically the lower body and feet.

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