The Chicago Occupational Accident Law Offices of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers Represent Costco Workers
Costco Workers and other warehouse membership club employees move merchandise onto the retail warehouse floor, build end displays, unload semi-truck trailers and fill racks, shelves, and customer orders. Some Costco workers perform cashier duties or work in specialty departments including the food court, pharmacy, tire center, hearing center, gas station, and eye center.
Many employees enjoy working at Costco because of their benefits program and that the company pays employees a living wage. As a result, many of the employees are highly loyal to the company. Costco boasts one of the lowest turnover rates at far below 6% for employees and less than 1% for executives. However, as a merchandise handler, cashier or stocker, most employees spend a majority of their time carrying and lifting merchandise, products, and goods which at the end of the day can be backbreaking.
There are a considerable number of injuries that occur at Costco another warehouse club retailers. The list below details many of the warehouse store hazards, warehouse worker fatalities, and what employees can do to minimize the dangerous risks associated with working in a big-box store.
Warehouse Store Hazards
Working at a Costco, superstore, or another warehouse retailer like Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowes can be hazardous to the employee’s health. Nearly all the store’s stack heavy merchandise high up on storage racks that are lifted and stored using forklifts. In some cases, the merchandise is loaded and unloaded on the racks during store hours, making it extremely dangerous to shoppers. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), there are significant dangers to working in a warehouse environment. Some hazards include:
- Heavy Equipment – Costco and other warehouse club retailers move merchandise using forklifts. However, according to OSHA, forklifts cause 95,000 injuries and 100 work-related deaths every year. Many injuries occur when the forklift is driven off the dock or strikes employees.
- Slip and Trip Incidents – Nearly every slip and trip in a warehouse environment can be prevented. Spilled liquids, broken bottles, materials on the floor, and poorly lit aisleways are often the major factors involving many slip and trip incidents occurring in a warehouse retail store.
- Falls – Employees working in high areas when loading and unloading merchandise on storage racks are susceptible to falling onto the heart concrete floor. Management is required to provide safety equipment including belts, straps, and gloves to employees to minimize the potential risk of falling.
- Fires – Costco and other warehouse clubs often sell flammable merchandise that went spilled can be potentially dangerous. Additionally, the pizza ovens in the food court are heated with natural gas up the temperatures of 600° in higher. These high temperatures increase the potential risk of a serious burn.
- Heavy Materials and Objects – OSHA published a report on warehouse employees working in the store and on the loading dock. The report claims that two workers die each month in job-related accidents including being crushed by heavy materials.
- Falling Objects – When material a stack up on storage racks, the potential of falling objects is significantly increased, especially if the items are stored improperly.
- Ineffective Ergonomics – Poorly designed operations, repetitive motion, and improperly lifting heavy objects are considered poor ergonomics which can cause significant disorders of the musculoskeletal system.
- Back Injuries – Muscle strains and sprains occur from overexertion or lifting heavy objects improperly.
- Minimal Training – Many accidents are the result of a lack of sufficient training on safety hazards in the work environment.
Many Costco workers develop serious musculoskeletal disorders due to repetitive motion from working in awkward postures throughout the day.
Costco Workers’ Wages
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016 data concerning the employment statistics of the previous year, 68,490 stock clerks and warehouse club workers were working in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area. On average, Warehouse Membership Club Workers in northeastern Illinois earn $27,640 every year (mean wage), which is $13.29 per hour. The wage is slightly higher than the national averages. See Chart
Warehouse Club Fatalities
In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the number of accidents occurring in Costco and other warehouse clubs that resulted in severe injuries and fatalities. Below is just a small sampling of the dangers of working or shopping in a warehouse.
- Case 1: May 2013 – A subcontractor working inside a Loudon County, Virginia Costco handing out samples of pizza was shot and killed inside the store by sheriff’s deputies after the woman acted strangely and charged at the deputies with a knife and scissors. One witness said that while they were in the food court, she watched three deputies run into the Costco. Later she stated she heard five shots followed by people shouting “Everybody out of the store! Out of the store!”
- Case 2: September 2012 – A Costco worker was injured in a machine accident. The New York Post published an article in September 2012 describing how a Costco “workers hand was mangled in a horrific slicing machine accident at the Harlem Costco.” While the employee's hand remained intact, it was “badly cut up after a freak accident inside the meat section shortly before 2:00 PM.” First responders arrived at Costco and transported the employee to the local “Bellevue Hospital in stable condition.” The general manager of the store stated that there “is no amputation… there was an incident.”
- Case 3: A San Jose Costco employee was shot and wounded at the end of the shift while out in the parking lot. The shooter was identified as the employee’s ex-wife who was waiting for the worker to come outside into the Costco parking lot. The victim lost a lot of blood while being dragged to safety by other workers who witnessed the event. The ex-wife remained at the scene and was arrested after police arrived. According to the article, the injured Costco worker was expected to survive.
- Case 4: May 2017 – Just after 8:00 AM on May 11, 2017, a retail worker had “placed a pallet loaded with boxes onto the second tier of the storage racks… [using a lift truck]. The wooden pallet of boxes slipped off of the rear of the rack causing boxes to fall off the pallet.” The supervisor used the lift truck “to retrieve the empty wooden pallet [while the other employee got] on the wooden pallet and was lifted to the second-tier storage rack… to reload the following boxes. The employee was moving boxes to the empty pallet [when] the employee’s foot got stuck between the boards of the empty pallet, which caused the employee to fall approximately 10 feet to the concrete floor.” The injured worker “sustained injuries to the head including a fracture of the skull with bleeding in the brain.”
- Case 5: March 2017 – An employee working at a warehouse “was backing up into a warehouse racket was caught between the rack and the floor. The employee suffered trauma to the chest” and was hospitalized with an injury.
- Case 6: August 2016 – A fifty-five-year-old male worker dies after a semi truck crashe into a warehouse. On August 15, 2016, at 2:00 PM, the worker was driving a semi truck with cargo when the truck’s “brake system failed, while coming out of the curve on the state highway. The employee was able to get the semi truck on the side road but ran into a concrete warehouse two blocks later. The employee was pronounced dead at the scene.”
- Case 7: March 2016 – An “employee was struck and killed when a warehouse storage rack collapsed.” On March 29, 2016, at 3:45 PM, a twenty-one-year-old male worker “was pulling orders and a warehouse when the storage racks in the warehouse collapsed, striking the employee with cases of frozen food products. The injured worker “sustained blunt force trauma to the head and neck due to the cases of frozen food products falling and striking the employee. The employee was killed.”
Federal agencies, including OSHA that maintain statistics on safety in the workplace state that the fatality injury rate is significantly higher for warehousing than any other industry on a national average. The potential hazards for most job-related deaths in warehouse clubs include unsafe use of heavy equipment including forklifts, improper products stacking, and insufficient fire safety provisions. Most non-lethal incidences concerning serious injuries in warehouse jobs involved repetitive motion and a lack of proper PPE (personal protective equipment). There are certain safety measures every worker can take including:
- Working Around Docks – Always drive the forklift slowly when on the dock plate or the dock and stay clear of dock edges. Ensure visual warnings are available that identify the edge of the dock. Prohibit employees from “dock jumping” to prevent falling injuries and crushing deaths by a semi-truck backing up.
- Proper Forklift Training – Make sure that every forklift operator has been trained, evaluated, and certified to drive the equipment safely. Ensure that the equipment is properly maintained and examined before each use. Never drive the forklift faster than five mph and significantly slower in congested areas of the warehouse. Make sure that the operator wears the equipment seatbelt in a manner identified by the manufacturer.
- Employee Hazardous Equipment Training – Every employee should be trained on the dangers associated with working around forklifts and the hazards of the equipment’s operational byproduct – carbon monoxide emissions.
- Follow Lifting Procedures – Employee should be trained on proper ergonomics involving lifting methods and using the assistance of coworkers to lift extremely heavy objects.
- Hazard Communication – Cleaning supplies, and hazardous merchandise sold in the store can cause significant injuries, especially chemical burns through exposure. The employee should be trained on how to minimize risk by storing chemicals properly and how to clean up spilled chemicals using a cleanup kit while using the proper PPE (personal protective equipment).
- Better Ergonomics – Wherever possible, employees should use mechanized equipment to lift heavy objects to avoid manual lifting. When manual lifting is required, reduce the lift by repositioning the bin or shelf to minimize the distance between the floor and the worker’s shoulders. When lifting, use the legs while straightening the back after testing the load to determine its bulk, size, and weight.
- Store Maintenance – Remove all clutter, hoses, spills, electrical cords and any other dangerous hazards from the aisles and floors that could cause an employee or shopper to slip and fall. The storage areas in the store should be kept clear of accumulated materials that could cause significant problems including pest infestation, explosions, fires, and tripping hazards.
- Rest Periods – Intense physical work requires sufficient periodic rest breaks. Taking a break can prevent fatigue levels from escalating which increased the potential risk of serious accidents with severe injuries.
- Proper Stacking Methods – The worker should never pile, or stack, unboxed or loose materials at elevated locations including on storage racks to prevent serious falling hazards that could injure employees and shoppers.
- Proper Labeling – All hazardous materials used or sold in the store should be properly labeled that identifies the chemical components along with the manufacturer’s name and address in the posted warning.
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