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The Top 10 Retail Workplace Hazards

Hazards exist in every workplace, but how do you know which ones have the most potential to harm retail employees? By identifying the retail workplace hazards that are most likely to impact safety, you will be better prepared to control or eliminate them and prevent accidents, injuries, property damage, and downtime.

The dynamic of the retail operation is a complicated web of activity. Minds, machines, individuals, and technologies are all expected to work in concert as the controlled chaos of the retail enterprise marches forward. To keep it all running smoothly, it is critical that we remain on a safe and productive path.

According to the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), a division of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) the following are the top ten retail hazards that are most likely to impact safety in the workplace:

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  1. Overexertion Injuries. A non-impact injury resulting from excessive physical effort, overexertion is a major cause of the inflammation of joints and ligaments that results from excessive physical effort. Excessive physical effort can affect people in different ways: for some it may cause little or no pain or discomfort and for some it may be debilitating.
  2. Lifting and Handling Materials. Improper lifting, pushing, pulling, lowering and twisting can cause strains, sprains, and other serious injuries. Improper techniques, physical capabilities, preexisting conditions and other related issues can contribute to potential risks.
  3. Slips, Trips, and Falls. Both employees and customers may fall due to trips and slips, and many can be avoided with proper care, maintenance, and housekeeping. The severity of the injury is typically based on the velocity of the impact (how far and how fast you fall); the hardness and other characteristics (smooth, rough, etc.) of the surface that you land on; and the orientation of the body upon impact.
  4. Stress at Work. According to NIOSH reports, 25 percent of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury.
  5. Being Struck by or Against. These are injuries that are the result of being struck by or struck against something (such as product falling off a shelf). The severity of the injury is typically based on the velocity of the impact (how hard you’re hit, and the distance that the object falls/travels); the characteristics (size, shape, weight, hardness, etc.) of the object; and the body part affected by the impact.
  6. Knives, Box Cutters, and Other Sharps. Some of the most common and preventable injuries are cuts and lacerations. These retail workplace hazards are often the result of improper training, failure to use necessary personal protection equipment, a failure to follow established safety procedures, and employees who are in a hurry and taking shortcuts.
  7. Forklifts and Pallet Jacks. Just about anything that is mechanical and moves has the potential to be a hazard. Many workplace hazards are caused by the moving parts of mechanical devices. Mechanical hazards cause bending, punching, pulling, caught-in, caught-on, and crush accidents that can cut, crush, break bones, strain muscles and cause additional and even more serious injuries.
  8. Loud or Intermittent Noise. Tools, equipment and machinery that vibrate or make loud noises can cause hearing loss and other serious injuries.
  9. Workplace Violence. Workplace violence refers to any act or threat of physical violence, abuse, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs in the work setting. It can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, contractors, customers and other visitors. Regardless of how it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide.
  10. Workplace Bullying. Workplace bullying refers to persistent, unreasonable actions directed towards a subordinate or coworker which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee. This may involve verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. Bullying behavior often involves an abuse or misuse of power, creates feelings of defenselessness and injustice, and undermines an individual’s right to dignity at work.

Safety in the workplace can’t simply be approached as a plan or a program; it must be perceived as a state of mind. We have to instill occupational safety principles as a critical element of the retail culture and willingly accept the responsibility to make safety an integral part of everything that we do.

Understanding the basic principles of safety enhancement therefore must be recognized as a primary characteristic of our role as a professional—and a primary aspect of our development as a retail industry leader.

This post was originally published in 2017 and was updated in July 2020 and July 2021. 

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