Retail Worker Safety and Health during the Holidays

Posted on by Vern Putz Anderson, PhD, CPE; Jeannie A.S. Nigam, MS; Donna Pfirman; Seleen Collins; and Debbie Hornback, MS

The practice of American shoppers looking for a deal on the Friday after Thanksgiving has evolved into a four-day retail event ending with Cyber Monday.  This shopping bonanza leading off the holiday shopping season has implications for workers who may have long workdays and expanded work schedules. The approaching season offers an ideal time for a workplace safety refresher for those retail employers and employees who are on the front lines of the shopping frenzy.

Stress and Fatigue

According to The Toolbox, a loss control newsletter, “A common cause of fatigue in employees in the retail industry is working extended or irregular shifts…that is working longer than 8-hours or anything that limits the opportunity to get adequate sleep between work shifts” [Member Insurance 2016].

While employees do benefit from the extra pay they earn by working additional hours, lost sleep and lost family time may be high costs that affect employees’ health and well-being. In 2016, 24% of American employees reported that work regularly interferes with their ability to meet personal and family obligations [APA 2017]. See the NIOSH Stress at Work topic page for more information. Workplace stress can lead to increased risk of injury. As employees’ work demands are increased and combined with long work hours, less attention may be paid to safe work practices increasing the risk of injury and back pain from slips, falls and excessive manual lifting [Dall’Ora 2016].

Crowd Management and Violence

Crowds of customers anxiously waiting to be helped add yet another layer of stress. Such workplace job demands, along with a lack of control workers may have over their work environment, can increase the risk of frustration and can lead to angry verbal exchanges and even violence in the extreme [Levy, et al. 2017 and Whiting 2017]. The NIOSH Occupational Violence topic page contains research focused on preventing workplace violence.

In 2008, a worker was trampled to death while a mob of shoppers rushed through the doors of a large store to take advantage of a Black Friday sales event. In response to such tragedies, OSHA developed a fact sheet containing recommendations for crowd management measures.

Retailers should be aware of the fact that work stress can negatively affect their employees’ mental and physical health. Being prepared and having plans in place can help reduce anxiety and assure that employees feel safe, supported, confident, and empowered to respond accordingly when needed in situations in which safety is at risk.

For more information about designing programs to support well-being, please see NIOSH Total Worker Health® Essential Elements of Effective Workplace Programs and Policies for Improving Worker Health and Wellbeing. Assuring that employees feel safe, supported, and have access to these beneficial programs can help mitigate the harmful effects of workplace stress, and bolster employee well-being that benefits individuals as well as their employers!

Tell us about the successes and challenges you have had with retail holiday sales and employee safety procedures. Let us know if you need additional references (such as on workplace violence, crowd management, long work hours, or fatigue) to build successful safety plans. Provide feedback below and give any tips or lessons learned on safety planning for large sales or promotion events.

Vern Putz Anderson, PhD, CPE, is NIOSH Coordinator for the Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector program.

Jeannie Nigam, MS, is NIOSH Co-Coordinator of the Healthy Work Design and Well-being Cross Sector program.

Donna Pfirman is NIOSH Co-Assistant Coordinator for the Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector program.

Seleen Collins is a Technical Writer-Editor in the NIOSH Education and Information Division.

Debbie Hornback, MS, is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Education and Information Division.



American Psychological Association [2017]. 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey. Retrieved from (retrieved November 14, 2017.)

Dall’Ora, C., Ball, J., Recio-Saucedo, A., & Griffiths, P. [2016]. Characteristics of shift work and their impact on employee performance and wellbeing: A literature review. International journal of nursing studies, 57, 12-27.

Euclid [2017]. Evolution of retail: 2017 holiday physical and digital trends. A Euclid commissioned summary survey report—2017 (retrieved October 27, 2017).

Hammer L. B., & Sauter, S. L. [2013]. Total worker health and work-life stress. Journal of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, 55(12), S25-S29.

Levy, B.S., Wegman, D.H., Baron S.L., Sokas, R.K. [2017]. Occupational Environmental Health. Seventh Ed. Oxford University Press. Chapter 14. Occupational Stress, Job Demand and Control Model by Landsbergis, P.A., et al. in press Nov 1, 2017 (retrieved November 17, 2017).

Member Insurance [2016]. Workplace fatigue: what is the ‘real’ cost of workplace fatigue? June 2016, (retrieved November 3, 2017).

NIOSH [2017]. Healthy work design and well-being resources. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (retrieved November 14, 2017).

NIOSH [2017]. Total Worker Health®. Essential elements of effective workplace programs and policies for improving worker health and wellbeing. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (retrieved November 14, 2017).

NRF [2017]. Press release: NRF forecasts holiday sales to increase between 3.6 and 4.0 percent. October 3, 2017. Washington, DC: National Retail Federation, (retrieved November 1, 2017).

OSHA [2012]. Crowd management safety guidelines for retailers. DTSEM 11/2012. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (retrieved October 30, 2017).

Smith, T. D., & DeJoy, D. M. [2012]. Occupational injury in America: An analysis of risk factors using data from the General Social Survey (GSS). Journal of Safety Research43, 67-74.

Whiting A. [2009]. Push, scream, or leave: how do consumers cope with crowded retail stores? Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 23 Issue: 7, pp.487-495, (retrieved November 17, 2017)



Posted on by Vern Putz Anderson, PhD, CPE; Jeannie A.S. Nigam, MS; Donna Pfirman; Seleen Collins; and Debbie Hornback, MS

One comment on “Retail Worker Safety and Health during the Holidays”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Great article. The health and safety of the worker should be of utmost importance in any company that is worth its dime. As a staff in a big company staff health has been of utmost importance remuneration-wise, health-awareness and settlement of issues that arise. Big companies have a structure that is able to handle customer complaints and issues.

    Name: Gerald Enrique

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Page last reviewed: November 28, 2017
Page last updated: November 28, 2017