How Safety Can Give Retailers a Competitive Edge

How Safety Can Give Retailers a Competitive Edge

How Safety Can Give Retailers a Competitive Edge

By Shane Slawek

Dealer Development Manager

As the Dealer Development Manager for Big Joe, I have spent a lot of time touring big box stores, multi-location retail operations and independent franchises evaluating their material handling operations.  Retail is a very competitive field with incredibly tight margins and economic warfare being waged for every square inch of floorspace.  Vendors fight for the prime shelf positions to entice consumers while marketing managers adjust planograms to maximize returns.  It’s a constant cycle of what have you done for me lately, sell the most or be moved out, and make room for the next holiday.

Through it all, the store employees are asked to haul in pallets, set up displays, replenish stock, turn inventory and assist the customers.  This is where I’m seeing applications which, in all honesty, employees are being put at risk simply because they have been given the wrong tool to do their job.  The two biggest offenders, in my opinion, are rolling ladders and manual pallet jacks.

Rolling ladders and their dangerous little cousins, the ladder cart and the step stool, have been fixtures on the retail landscape for over a century, so you may ask, “What’s the big deal?” It seems pretty obvious, something is on the top shelf and the ladder is the only way up.  Of course, the problem is that ladders are inherently dangerous. 

OSHA 1910.23(b)(12) states: Employees must use at least one hand to grasp a ladder when climbing up or down it.

OSHA 1910.23(b)(13) states: No employee may carry any object or load that could cause an employee to lose balance and fall while climbing up or down a ladder.

One very distressing fact of retail is that large bulky items are often placed on higher shelves to make room for denser, more profitable product placements on the prime eye level shelves.  This practice flies in the face of the OSHA regulations I’ve listed above.  Asking an employee to climb a ladder to access these bigger boxes is basically asking for an accident to happen.  It can result in expensive workman’s compensation claims, higher insurance premiums and lengthy lawsuits.  To complicate the issue further, there’s the ever-present danger of unauthorized usage by impatient customers and unattended children on the sales floor.  When you consider the changing demographics of the average retail employee, with retirees and senior citizens making up more and more of the workforce, little accidents can have long-term consequences. 

In a nutshell, the shelf space is valuable, the competition is fierce, the shelves are high, and the lawyers are merciless. 

It’s time to roll the ladders out the door.


Rolling Ladders put workers in danger of falling when accessing stock. Operators are fully enclosed in the Joey eStep’s powered lifting platform.

The Material Handling Industry has been working for years to come up with viable replacements for rolling ladders, and Big Joe has been at the forefront.  We introduced the J1 Joey Task Support Vehicle in 2012 with the intention of eliminating rolling ladders in high volume warehouses.  While it has been extremely successful in that application, it was not the answer for retail - it goes too high, moves too fast and is just a little too big.  Our engineers took a look at the retail industry and identified two key places where the Joey concept could have a real impact.  The first being warehouse clubs and big box stores where inventory is often placed on high shelving and industrial style racking.  The second was more traditional mass merchandising retail operations where the top shelf is typically no more than eight to ten feet high.

Introducing the Joey Zero and Joey eStep.


The Joey Zero’s 118” lifting height, compact footprint, and maneuverability make it an excellent choice for warehouse stores.

The J0 Joey Zero was designed with a smaller footprint than the original J1 Joey, which makes it ideal for maneuvering in warehouse clubs and big box stores.  This electric access vehicle features powered forward and reverse travel, a tight turning radius and a fully-enclosed 42” high personnel platform with automatically locking safety rear gates to prevent operator overreach.  Its steel I-beam mast with dual lifting chains is capable of raising the platform to 118” while providing solid stability at height. The powered front load tray has a 19” range of motion that allows the operator to position up to 200 lb. loads at comfortable working heights. With a maximum capacity of 750 lb. (300 lb. operator, 200 lb. front load tray and 250 lb. front load deck), the J0 can access more inventory faster than a person can carry on a ladder and do it far more safely.  The J0 includes a key switch lockout to prevent unauthorized operation by untrained personnel or curious customers.

Of course, the J0 costs more than a rolling ladder, but it is significantly less expensive than the cost of a Worker’s comp claims in dollars and lost productivity. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Compensation and Working Conditions Spring 2000”: Workers injured in falls were out of work a median of 8 days, 3 days more than the median days lost for all injuries and illnesses combined. 

For traditional retail operations, we have designed the Joey eStep Semi-Electric Access Vehicle.  It is a manually propelled, personnel lifting platform with a compact footprint that can easily fit in narrow retail aisles.  The eStep features a hydraulically powered operator compartment that can elevate up to 42” for safer access to high shelves.  The operator is fully enclosed in a 42.5” high enclosure with one-way swinging rear gates to prevent dangerous overreach.  The eStep is capable of transporting 300lbs. of goods, 100lbs each on two front load trays and 100lbs on the front load deck.  The operators compartment has a maximum lifting load of 500lbs (300lbs. operator and 200lbs. on load trays).  Like the J0, the eStep also includes a key switch lockout to prevent unauthorized operation.

Weighing in at only 600lbs, the eStep rolls easily on large non-marking polyurethane casters that won’t damage retail flooring.  Its rear swivel casters have manually operated foot locks and an automatic floor lock that engages when lifting operations begin.  It offers greatly improved employee safety versus dangerous ladder carts and portable step stools.

Move toward safety

When it comes to moving pallets off trucks, around the storeroom and onto the sales floor, retailers have typically relied on manual pallet jacks.  It is hard to beat the economy of such a simple machine, with its proven platform and low cost, so we didn’t reinvent it, our engineers improved it.  Big Joe family of electric pallet trucks was designed to increase worker productivity while improving overall safety.  By automating the lift / lower functions and adding powered travel and braking to a standard pallet jack concept, we have effectively minimized some of their most dangerous operations. 

Workers are often at risk from repetitive stress injuries when pumping the handle of a pallet jack to lift the materials off the floor.  Backs, shoulders and arms are frequently strained when employees use improper form to physically swing the jack’s handle up and down.  The simple solution is to replace that old school manual unit with one of our electric pallet trucks.  The E25, E30 and D40 feature onboard battery powered hydraulic pumps that can lift 2,500lbs, 3,000lbs and 4,000lbs respectively, at the touch of a finger.


Moving heavily loaded pallets and skids is safer and easier with Big Joe Electric pallet trucks.

Moving a heavily loaded skid on a traditional pallet jack requires a degree of strength that may be challenging to some workers.  Asking them to tug on up to two tons of goods can result in strained back muscles or even torn cartilage and ligaments in their knees.  Once they get it rolling, stopping a moving load may actually present a greater danger to people and products.  Our electric pallet trucks feature fingertip controls for forward and reverse travel, plus electromagnetic brakes that automatically engage when the tiller is moved to the upper and lower limits of its travel. To increase safety, a belly button reversing switch is located on the control head.  If depressed, it will automatically stop forward motion of the truck and the change direction of travel for a short distance to prevent injuries.

Depending on what you’re moving, how often and how far, you can choose the right truck for your application and know that you’re going to move more and hurt less, with Big Joe.