‘Tis the Season for Shopping and SafetyPosted on by
‘Tis the season for shopping and for working—specifically in retail. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, 4.6 million Americans worked in retail sales while 3.4 million more worked as cashiers, making up almost six percent of total U.S. employment. This holiday season, many retail employees are working longer hours and to meet the increased holiday demand, many employers are hiring extra help. The National Retail Federation predicts that retailers will hire between 640,000-690,000 seasonal workers this holiday season. Research shows that new employees are at a greater risk of injury. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, more than a quarter of incidents or injuries happen to people who’ve been on the job for less than a year (2016). In fact, injury statistics indicate workers are most vulnerable to an injury during their first month of work (BLS, SOII, 2014). Some of the hazards faced by retail workers are highlighted below. During this busy and stressful time of year we can all do our part to help keep workers in retail (and all industries) safe.
As shoppers converge on retail outlets for “Black Friday” and other seasonal sales events, employers and workers can take specific actions to avoid workplace injuries during the holiday shopping season. Crowd management, pre-event setup, and emergency situation management should be part of sales event planning. Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides general information that employers may use in planning large events.
While violence erupting at Black Friday sales makes news headlines, retail workers face the threat of violence every day. Robbery-related homicides and assaults are the leading cause of death in retail businesses. Workers in convenience stores have a 7 times higher rate of work-related homicide than workers in other industries (2 homicides per 100,000 workers vs. 0.28 per 100,000 workers)[i]. Violence at work includes hitting, fighting, shooting, sexual harassment, rape, bullying, stealing, and verbal abuse. Retail businesses at high risk of assaults and violent acts include convenience stores, gas stations, and businesses that sell alcoholic beverages. Jobs that require employees to work alone at night, handle money, and sell alcohol, particularly in poorly lit areas, will increase the risk for workplace violence. For more information see Convenience Store Compliance to Reduce Workplace Violence. Below are a few recommendations for employers to help keep workers safe:
- Keep windows from being covered up by signs or displays.
- Ensure adequate lighting inside and outside of the workplace.
- Make sure alarms and cameras work.
- Educate workers about the security and safety plan.
- Make sure all workers know which doors should stay locked. Check those doors often.
Long Hours and Shiftwork
Extending shopping hours can mean longer and different shifts for workers. Working irregular shifts or night hours can be associated with disrupted or insufficient sleep which can be associated with immune system dysfunction, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic health problems. Unfortunately, there is no single ideal strategy to successfully address the sleep risks of every demanding shiftwork situation. Instead, interventions often need to be customized to the specific employer and worker. These include designing new shift schedules with frequent rest breaks, avoiding night shifts that exceed eight hours, improving one’s sleep environment, taking a long nap before a night shift begins, accelerating the modulation of circadian rhythms using bright lights, improving physical fitness, engaging in stress reduction activities, and strengthening family and social support. Sources of further information and recommendations from NIOSH can be found on the Work Schedules: Shift Work and Long Hours topic page.
Extended holiday shopping hours can also result in more time standing for workers. Studies show increased reports of low back pain, physical fatigue, muscle pain, leg swelling, tiredness, and body part discomfort due to prolonged standing. There is significant evidence that prolonged standing at work (primarily in one place) increases risk of low back pain, cardiovascular problems, and pregnancy outcomes. Interventions such as floor mats, shoe inserts, adjustable chairs, sit–stand workstations, and compression stockings have been used by employees to reduce the pain, discomfort and fatigue from prolonged standing. In a review of the studies examining the effectiveness of interventions, dynamic movement appeared to be the best solution for reducing risk of these health problems due to prolonged standing.
Nearly 2.5 million cashiers and stocking clerks are at risk for musculoskeletal injuries that stem from overexertion in grocery stores[ii]. According to Liberty Mutual Research Institute, overexertion is the leading cause of workplace injuries and account for $14.2 billion in direct costs. In the grocery sector, overexertion injuries that lead to soft tissue injuries, A.K.A. musculoskeletal disorders, account for 41% of the injuries and lost work in grocery stores. One way to prevent these injuries is by using mechanical assist devices such as powered pallet movers, height-adjusted conveyors, and powered adjustable handcarts. The NIOSH document, Ergonomic Solutions for Retailers: Prevention of Material Handling Injuries in the Grocery Sector, illustrates the use of mechanical assist devices for reducing manual materials handling injuries in retail grocery work. These devices prevent injury and can help reduce the impact of aging allowing older workers to stay on their jobs even with physical limitations.
Young workers will be among the 640,000-690,000 seasonal workers the National Retail Federation predicts will be hired this holiday season. Young workers have high workplace injury rates. In 2013, about 23,000 (1 of every 4) young retail workers were injured in a retail job[iii]. The rate of emergency department–treated workplace injuries was found to be about two times higher for young workers than for workers 25 years and older. To address their increased risk for work-related injury, NIOSH developed a new webpage for young retail workers. This webpage includes safety tips for recognizing hazards and understanding the injuries they can cause, such as being struck by or stuck in an object or equipment; doing too much (overexertion); slips, trips, and falls; driving or riding incidents on the road; and workplace violence.
If you work in retail, please share your strategies for getting through the holiday season in the comment section below.
Donna Pfirman is a Program Analyst in the NIOSH Education and Information Division.
Vern Putz Anderson, PhD, CPE, is the NIOSH Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector Coordinator.
[i] Chaumont Menéndez et al , Disparities in work-related homicide rates in selected retail industries in the United States, 2003-2008. Journal of Safety Research 44:25-29.
[ii] NIOSH Science Blog “Thanksgiving Ergonomics: Reducing material handling injuries with engineering controls” https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2014/11/25/thanksgiving-ergo/
[iii] BLS Table R82 http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/case/ostb4063.pdf