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Study: Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector Injury Rates Higher Than General Private Industry

Although thought of as a low risk industry, the employees within the wholesale and retail (WRT) sector experience a proportionally higher number of injury/illnesses and sustain a higher rate of overexertion related disabling (condition causes employee to take one or more days off work) disorders when compared to private industry in general, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data performed by the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH). 

The WRT sector incurred an average of nearly 20% of all private industry injury/illnesses while employing approximately 15-16% of private sector workers from 2003 to 2007.  For both 2005 and 2006, the WRT sector had a greater number of days-away-from-work (DAFW)  than other industries considered as having greater hazards such as construction, manufacturing, and health care/social assistance sectors.

The incidence rate of overexertion related DAFW injury/illness in 2006 was greater for both wholesale (35.4 cases per 10,000 FTE) and retail (39.8 cases per 10,000 FTE) workers compared to private industry (30.8 cases per 10,000 FTE).  The WRT subsectors with the highest incidence rate of overexertion related DAFW included:

  • Beer/wine/and distilled alcoholic beverages wholesalers – 114.9/10,000 FTE
  • Tire dealers retailers – 102.1/10,000 FTE
  • Other home furnishings stores retailers – 86.5/10,000 FTE
  • Home centers retailers – 82.9/10,000 FTE
  • Farm products and raw material wholesalers – 79.0/10,000 FTE

Select WRT subsectors had a much higher rate of fall related DAFW injury/illness compared to the industry average (lower level fall – 8.0/10,000 FTE and same level fall – 16.4/10,000 FTE).  They included:

  • Manufactured (mobile) home dealers – 100.9/10,000 FTE due to lower level fall
  • Used merchandise stores – 51.7/10,000 FTE due to lower level fall and 55.7/10,000FTE due to same level fall
  • Florists – 53.0/10,000FTE due to same level fall
  • Outdoor power equipment – 44.0/10,000FTE due to same level fall

The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists
By producing one out of every five occupational injury/illnesses in the private sector, the wholesale and retail trade sector can be seen as a significant health and safety burden.  Targets for ergonomic intervention could be based on several criteria:

  • Number of employees at risk
  • Subsectors with higher than average incidence rates
  • Subsectors with high incidence rates of lost work time
  • Subsectors with high incidence rates of events/exposures that ergonomic controls directly address

Subsectors with high incidence rate include home centers (8.8/100 FTE), building material and supplies dealers (7.6/100 FTE), other building material dealers (7.1/100 FTE), and grocery and related product merchant wholesalers (7.0/100 FTE).  Subsectors with the highest DAFW rates include manufactured home dealers (3.0/10,000 FTE), Beer/wine/distilled alcoholic beverage merchant wholesalers (2.9/10,000 FTE), and other home furnishings stores (2.5/10,000 FTE).

As mentioned above, overexertion event/exposure is significant among the subsectors of beer/wine/and distilled alcoholic beverages wholesalers, tire dealers retailers, other home furnishings stores retailers, home centers retailers, and farm products and raw material wholesalers.

Also, falls are a concern among subsectors of manufactured (mobile) home dealers, used merchandise stores, florists, and outdoor power equipment retailers.
The National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) is a NIOSH related partnership program to stimulate innovative research and improved workplace practices.  NORA uses a sector based approach to define and meet high priority needs through NORA Sector Councils such as the Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector Council, where more information on this topic can be obtained.

Other Key Points
WRT employees perform distribution activities within the business design of manufacture-distribute-consume.  

In general, work related injuries among WRT employees can be related to combinations of tasks involving product handling and contact with objects/equipment.  Within the wholesale industry, contact with objects/equipment (29.0%) and overexertion (26.3%) were the most common events/exposures that produced a DAFW injury/illness in 2006.  During the same year within the retail industry, overexertion (29.1%) and contact with objects/equipment (28.9%) were the most common events/exposures that produced a DAFW injury/illness.

Research Method
The primary data sources used from this study included:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses
  • Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries
  • The Current Population Survey from the U. S. Census Bureau

Select information from BLS surveys was taken from years 2003 to 2007 to provide comparative analysis.  Key injury/illness categories of interest included:

  • Nature of disorder
  • Source (object, substance, person, exposure, or bodily motion)
  • Body part
  • Event/exposure (identifies type of hazard such as slips/trips/falls, overexertion, contact with electrical current, or caught in equipment)
  • Days-away-from-work (indicative of disorder severity)

This study can be acquired from the copyright holder at:

Article Title: Occupational Fatalities, Injuries, Illnesses, and Related Economic Loss in the Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector

Publication: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 53:673-685, 2010

Authors: V Putz Anderson, P A Schulte, J Sestito, H Linn, and L S Nguyen

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2010-08-04.