The design of supermarket workstations to reduce the incidence of musculo-skeletal discomfort

Statistics provided by the Department of Social Security in Great Britain show that the number of days of certified incapacity because of musculo-skeletal diseases rose from 34.2 million days in 1971/2 to 78.2 million in 1986/7. This alarming rise is costly both to the employee and the employer. This paper describes how one large-supermarket store examined the extent of the problem experienced by their staff and what measures the management took to alleviate the situation. The great majority of studies concerning supermarket workers have examined only the cashiers' workstations (e.g. Wilson and Grey, 1984; Thorne and Russell, 1987, Krueger et al, 1988; Strasser 1990) often because of the introduction of laser scanning systems. The cashiers were typically found to report discomfort in the neck, shoulders, arms and back. A recent study by Ryan (1989) examined supermarket employees in a range of job areas and concluded that the cashiers experienced an excess prevalence of musculo-skeletal symptoms compared to other employees, particularly in the lower back and lower limbs. The discomfort in the lower limbs was associated with standing (whereas the other studies cited examined seated cashiers) and there appeared to be a threshold effect of about 50% of time spent standing for lower limb symptoms to appear. Earlier work by Buckle et al (1986) compared the incidence of musculo-skeletal disorders within female occupational groups including supermarket workers in general. It was pointed out that the supermarket workers showed only slightly lower prevalence rates of back pain than nurses who are known to be a group particularly at risk.