Retail Worker Safety and Health during the Holidays

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. This 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.

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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 eight hours or anything that limits the opportunity to get adequate sleep between work shifts” [Member Insurance 2016].

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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 percent 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, 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!


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 Research, 43, 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)

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