In 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a comprehensive overview of the 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in the Wholesale and Retail Trade (WRT) sector. Recently, NIOSH researchers expanded on this study to include the ten years of BLS data that followed, for a richer, more complex view. The resulting article, “Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector Occupational Fatal and Nonfatal Injuries and Illnesses from 2006–2016: Implications for Intervention,” was recently published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. The study reports on the WRT injury and illness burden, examines the underlying changes in demographics that could be contributing to safety and health risks, and highlights WRT subsectors that merit intervention. The study’s aim is to determine what progress has been made over the eleven-year period and to identify areas for intervention.
From 2006 through 2016, injury and illness rates declined overall for private industry, including the wholesale and retail trade sectors. For its size, the WRT workforce experienced a disproportionately 5% higher burden or share of serious work-related injuries and illnesses. WRT is one of the largest economic sectors in the United States – even a small increase in the burden affects large numbers of workers, their families, employers, and communities. Overexertion and bodily reaction, falls, and contact with objects contributed to more than 90% of the WRT injuries reported. In 2016, WRT nonfatal injuries cost employers more than $17 billion in workers’ compensation medical benefits and lost wages.
During this time, the fatality rate declined overall for private industry, including the retail sector. In contrast, the wholesale sector’s fatality rate increased. The average wholesale sector fatality rate (4.9/100000 FTE) exceeded the average private industry rate (3.8/100000 FTE) from 2006 through 2016. Transportation-related incidents were the leading cause of death in the wholesale sector. Assaults and violence were the leading cause of death in the retail sector.
Wholesale subsectors with elevated injury and illness rates included durable and nondurable goods, recycling materials, motor parts, lumber, metal and mineral, grocery, and alcohol merchants. Retail subsectors with elevated injury and illness rates included motor parts dealers, gasoline stations, nonstores (sell merchandise outside of brick-and-mortar buildings), tire, home and garden centers, supermarkets, meat markets, warehouse clubs, pet stores, and fuel dealers.
For example, in 2016 the fatality rate for the wholesale subsector ‘recyclable materials’ was nearly seven times higher than the overall private industry rate. Of 17 deaths in this subsector, 7 were caused by transportation incidents and 6 were caused by contact with objects and equipment.
Two retail subsectors with high fatality rates are gasoline stations and convenience stores. In 2016, gasoline stations had the highest risk for fatal retail work injuries, nearly four times the rate in the retail sector overall. The very nature of the business makes it vulnerable to violence. The stores often are continuously open, have small staffs, and are in high-risk locations. Many of these establishments are small businesses with low profit margins. A single fatality or serious nonfatal injury or illness can threaten their existence.
The study also identified potential gaps in the available data that warrant further research. For example, the general decline in the number of cases reported to BLS of nonfatal injuries and illnesses might be a sign of underreporting. When BLS data are compared to other sources tracking work-related injuries and illnesses, large discrepancies appear.
Safety practitioners and employers should look more closely into the events and exposures that cause fatal and nonfatal injuries and illnesses and adopt proven strategies to eliminate or minimize these workplace hazards. The most practical approach would be for employers and safety practitioners to focus on their strengths and the resources available.
Late in 2018, Vern Anderson, the lead researcher of this study, retired. This article marks one of his final contributions to the field of occupational safety and health and to Wholesale and Retail Trade. Anderson hopes safety practitioners and researchers will find the direction they need to carry on his life’s work protecting U.S. workers.
- Anderson (Putz) V, Schulte, PA, Novakovich J, Pfirman D, Bhattacharya, A . Wholesale and retail trade sector occupational fatal and nonfatal injuries and illnesses from 2006–2016: implications for intervention. Am J Ind Med. DOI: 10.1002/ajim.23063
- Anderson (Putz) V, Schulte PA, Sestito J, Linn H, Nguyen LS . Occupational fatalities, injuries, illnesses, and related economic loss in the wholesale and retail trade sector. Am J Ind Med 53(7);673–685. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20813