The holidays can be a time of cheer and festivity, but it also can be fraught with risk. The rate of workplace injuries often increases during this time of year. The reason for this uptick in holiday season workplace injuries could be due to a variety of factors.
To begin with, the holiday season is a time of year where hiring typically increases. More new and temporary employees are needed to meet demand. For example, Amazon announced plans to hire 150,000 employees in full-time, part-time, and seasonal positions ahead of the 2022 holiday season. UPS stated that they planned to hire 100,000 seasonal employees in 2022 as well. While these employees are needed to keep up with operational goals and handle the holiday rush, inexperienced employees may be at a greater risk of injury. One recent study revealed that 35% of workplace injuries occur during a worker's first year on the job,
Additionally, the holidays are a hectic time for most people. Workers are often balancing holiday planning, travel arrangements, and other home-life logistics alongside their work. This can leave employees easily distracted. Distracted workers may not recognize hazards as readily as they normally would, or they may be to too hasty to finish their tasks for the day. In order to keep employees safe, it is worth considering all the additional factors that could increase holiday season workplace injuries.
Fatigue is the overall feeling of being overtired, weary, and drained of energy. It is typically the body’s way of letting someone know that they need to rest. With the added responsibilities at work and home during the holiday season, it is pretty reasonable that employees could feel this way. Fatigue, however, is a major risk to safety. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track fatigue-related incidents, but injury estimates are based on a variety of statistics related to sleep. One study found that an estimated 13% of work injuries can be attributed to sleep problems. Fatigue can slow an employee’s reaction time, cause brain fog and memory issues, and is a key contributor to motor vehicle accidents. A driver who is behind the wheel with only two hours of lost sleep will operate a vehicle similarly to having consumed three beers.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
Ladder falls are common during the holiday season. During the 2019 holiday season, 14,800 people were treated in emergency rooms nationwide for decorating-relating injuries, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Almost half of daily decorating-injuries involved falls. Whether employees are just using ladders to decorate or using them all year-round ladder safety is a must. The holidays are a great time to provide a refresher on ladder safety to employees. Remind everyone to maintain 3-point contact (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) when climbing or descending a ladder.
Ladder falls are not the only injury to worry about. Slips and trips are frequent around the holidays as well. Scattered decorations and uncovered cables can lead to trips. Winter weather hazards make for slippery conditions. Snow and ice can be easily tracked into worksites. Pair that with employees who are fatigued, distracted, or in a rush and the likelihood of a slip, trip, or fall increases.
Electrical injuries are more common during the holidays. This risk increase is typically due to the addition of decorations and misuse of lights. Misuse or faulty electronic decorations can lead to electrocutions and electrical fires. Fires caused by Christmas trees and holiday decorations result in twice the injuries. Additionally, the cause 5 times more fatalities per fire than the average winter holiday fire. It is important for employers to make sure that their decorations are safe, without damage or exposed wires, and that the electrical outlets are not overloaded. Employees should be reminded of the importance of unplugging all decorations before everyone leaves the workplace at the end of the day.
For many companies, the holiday season is their busiest time of the year. Employees may feel pressure to work more quickly, and to finish more tasks. Their productivity should not be prioritized over their safety. Lifting or pushing heavy objects or performing the same or similar tasks repetitively can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In 2021, total workers’ compensation claims cost $13.3 billion for overexertion involving outside sources, like material handling, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.
In order to prevent MSDs, physical changes to work stations and ergonomic equipment can be beneficial. When prolonged standing is needed, anti-fatigue mats can be beneficial . Eyeglasses with magnification can prevent awkward postures like bending at the neck. The NIOSH Hierarchy of Controls can help design the workplace to remove or reduce risks and prevent workplace injuries.
While the holidays can be an exciting and busy time, it is important to not lose sight on workplace safety. Communication is the most important tool for preventing holiday season workplace injuries. Employers and team leaders should discuss relevant holiday safety topics, review ladder safety techniques and break schedules. They should also encourage discussion and feedback on topics like ergonomics.