In October 2017 we published the first blog in a series to highlight musculoskeletal health research at NIOSH. With the holiday season upon us, this next installment will take the opportunity to discuss how best to promote musculoskeletal health in retail establishments to reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders among temporary retail workers. Temporary or seasonal retail workers employed through staffing agencies are often at a disadvantage compared to full-time employees doing the same job because they tend not to receive the same training or the same personal protective equipment as full-time employees.1

In 2015 there were approximately 20 million employees in wholesale and retail trade (WRT) industries. Nearly 17 million of those workers had jobs in retail. Job-related tasks in retail require workers to lift large volumes of consumer goods, stand for prolonged periods of time, and repetitively reach, bend, twist, and assume other unnatural postures when handling merchandise or assisting buyers. Of every 10,000 retail workers in 2015, an average 36.5 reported a musculoskeletal disorder.2 Manual material handling is the most frequent hazard in the WRT sector and accounts for the majority of reported work-related musculoskeletal disorders in retail industries.3 Research has shown that ergonomically designed manual materials handling equipment (such as height-adjusted lift tables or conveyers) allow greater numbers of retail workers to perform material handling tasks without the added risk of injury and loss of work.

A substantial number of seasonal or temporary retail employees are hired every year to prepare for the extra demands of the holiday season. The complexities of temporary employment arrangements create some ambiguity over the responsibility for complying with health and safety standards, which can result in increased health and safety risks in the workplace. Temporary workers also tend to fall into the following vulnerable demographic groups:

  • Young (i.e. under age 25). Young, relatively inexperienced workers may not know how to ask their coworkers and employers for help on the job. In 2012, one in four young workers was injured in a retail job3. If you are a young retail worker, visit the Young Retail Workers page to learn how you can avoid overworking this holiday season.
  • Female. According to the Women’s Health at Work Science Blog, female workers report more work-related musculoskeletal disorders than their male counterparts across all industries. If you are a female retail worker who is pregnant or about to become pregnant, visit the Women’s Health at Work NIOSH Science Blog to learn how you can use recommended pregnancy lifting guidelines to protect yourself on the job.
  • Black, Hispanic, and/or Latino. Temporary workers are more likely to be black, Hispanic, and/or Latino. These workers are likely to have lower incomes and fewer benefits than their non-black, non-Hispanic counterparts.3 It is the responsibility of staffing agencies and host employers to provide OSHA-mandated safety and health training to all workers regardless of age, sex, race, or ethnicity.

Musculoskeletal disorders have a large economic impact on society that includes the cost of treatment and the related indirect costs of productivity losses. Workers, their families, employers, and tax payers share this burden. We would love to hear from you in the comment section below about how you have used NIOSH musculoskeletal health research to promote musculoskeletal health in retail establishments and reduce incidence of musculoskeletal disorders among temporary retail workers.


  1. NIOSH Science Blog. Addressing the Hazards of Temporary Employment: A Joint Session of the NORA Manufacturing Sector and Services Sector Councils. Last Updated March 15, 2017.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities: Case and Demographic Characteristics for Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses Involving Days Away From Work. Last
  3. Updated December 7, 2016.
  4. NIOSH Program Portfolio: Wholesale and Retail Trade. Last updated August 29, 2017.