Why January is the worst time for retail workers’ comp claims


Why January is the worst time for retail workers’ comp claims | Insurance Business America

You better watch out (for a higher number of injuries)

Workers Comp

Gia Snape

‘Tis the most wonderful – and busiest – time of the year for the retail industry.

While a sharp spike in holiday shopping typically means a similar uptick in the number of seasonal workers, a new report on retail risks has found that these workers were more likely to get injured on the job in January rather than in November and December.

AmTrust Financial Services Inc. (AmTrust) has found that the number of workers’ compensation injuries that are claimed for every $100,000 of a retailer’s payroll in the United States was 25% higher in January.

Paradox for retail workers’ comp claims?

AmTrust, the third-largest provider of workers’ compensation insurance in the US, analyzed more than 42,000 workers’ comp claims that were filed with the company by retailers during the five-year period 2017-2022. Retail categories in the study included convenience/grocery, meat/fish, hardware, furniture, auto parts, beauty/barber, clothing, and dry goods.

Overall, January saw the highest number of workers’ compensation claims, according to AmTrust’s report. Claims related to strains and falls were also most likely to occur in that month.

The month of December, in contrast, saw the least reported injuries per $100,000 in payroll over the last five years.  

The report showed that strains make up 26% of claims reported and 29% of claims payouts among retail businesses. Falls followed closely, accounting for 19% of claims reported and 27% of claims payouts.

Matt Zender (pictured), SVP, workers’ compensation product manager at AmTrust, addressed the seeming paradox in an interview with Insurance Business.

“Historically, I would have thought that December was a time that the frequency would increase, especially amongst injuries such as strains, slips, and falls,” Zender said.

“But if you look at the typical seasonal worker, they tend to be younger, on average, and working on flexible work arrangements. For instance, they may be young people who come home from university and pick up shifts while on holiday.”

Younger temporary workers may recover quicker from mild injuries or choose not to report minor injuries, relying instead on their health insurance or treating them at home.

They could also have access to other treatment options, such as their parents’ health care plans, compared to employees whose only recourse might be through workers’ comp, Zender noted.

“Now, in January, you still have some seasonal cleanup, such as putting away boxes and whatnot from the holiday season that could lead to some strains,” Zender said.

“You’re also now dealing with more weather elements. There’s more snow in January than in December, on average, which will contribute to some slips and falls in the post-holiday melee where you’re dealing with things like returns and inventory.”

Taking stock of retail businesses’ risk management strategies to minimize workers’ comp risk

To cut down on workers’ comp claims during and after the holiday season, retail organizations must not skip critical onboarding and training sessions with their temporary workforce.

“It can be a little hard for retailers to think about some of the downstream elements when they’re focused on their production because, for many retailers, this is the time of the year that can make or break their business,” Zender said.

“It can be hard to focus on training [seasonal workers] when they’re only going to be there for six weeks, but there are some onboarding elements that you can focus on that don’t take a lot of time and energy but can help reduce the incidence of claims, whether it’s in December or January.”

Other retail safety tips AmTrust highlighted include:

  • Placing heavy items at waist level and lighter items on higher shelves
  • Using safe lifting techniques and lifting aids
  • Keeping walking surfaces free of clutter
  • Enforcing proper footwear policies
  • Keeping walkways, exits and parking lots well-lit and maintained

Aside from creating a robust workplace safety training program, retail operators must also set merchandise racks correctly according to federal and state regulations and ensure employees know procedures regarding on-premises security, robberies, and shoplifting.

Zender encouraged retailers to focus on “bang for their buck” when onboarding seasonal staff.

“It doesn’t have to be complicated but letting them know about how you expect people to work safely and what they should look out for, that can be helpful,” he said.

“Encouraging a seasonal worker to store things properly and put things back after they’ve been used also helps the customer experience as well as the overall operation to run more safely.”

What are your thoughts on holiday retail risks and workers’ compensation claims during this season? Please share them in the comments.

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