Food Warehouse Workers are at Increasing Injury Risk

A Thirty Year Retrospective


Thirty years ago, a prospective validation study in food warehousing found that newly hired individuals whose measured physical abilities were less than the routinely encountered job demands experienced injury rates 2.5 times that of those whose measured physical abilities met or exceeded those demands. This study, completed by Advanced Ergonomics, Inc. (AEI) in 1990, identified a need for mitigation and a successful strategy to reduce this risk gap between routine food warehouse physical demands and the average job candidate abilities. In the years since this study was completed, AEI has completed detailed onsite analyses quantifying the strength and energy expenditure demands of food selector jobs in over 400 locations, comprising some 50,000 hours of energy expenditure monitoring of workers. During this same time frame AEI has evaluated and documented the physical strength and aerobic capacity of over 400,000 food warehouse job applicants. An analysis of this wealth of data over time indicates that the physical demand requirements in food warehouses has increased significantly while the physical abilities of the average job candidate have decreased, resulting in a risk gap that is now greater than ever.


This increase has contributed to an overall work intensity and associated energy expenditure requirement that NIOSH considers to be in high need of mitigation. In the same time frame, the average body weight and BMI of job candidates has increased and the overall average aerobic capacity has decreased, resulting in approximately 62% of job candidates having lower fitness levels than the average job requirements. These candidates are approximately twice as likely to experience a job related injury in a food warehouse as those with fitness levels that meet or exceed the job demands. As such, there is an obvious need for mitigation to reduce this risk gap and the associated injuries, costs and negative impacts on business.


Mitigation could be accomplished by lowering work demands, i.e. productivity requirements, or by adding headcount to accomplish the same work output. However, these approaches are not likely to be feasible given their costs that would decrease profits. A mitigation strategy that has proven repeatedly over time to be effective, cost-efficient and legally defensible is the use of job-specific physical abilities testing in the employment process. By qualifying job candidates as capable of meeting the essential physical demands of the job, employers can drastically lower their overall injury experience and associated costs as well as lower turnover.


The AEI physical abilities testing program is based on an ergonomic and engineering approach that is founded in three separate prospective validation studies performed in the industries of beverage, retail and food warehousing and distribution. With the unique and proprietary focus on the primary demands of strength and energy expenditure, the AEI program has proven very successful, particularly for industries and jobs having high work intensity demands like food warehouses. Having conducted over one million evaluations of job candidate physical abilities for employers to date, AEI has documented an average of 41% reduction in new hire injuries, 21% decrease in turnover and complete success in legal defensibility in multiple reviews from a variety of governmental agencies. Given the typical cost of the average workplace injury, physical abilities testing continues to provide a very feasible mitigation strategy that is effective and cost-efficient, resulting in a high return on investment.


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Jim Briggs OTR (Ret.) Vice President of Operations, Advanced Ergonomics, Inc.