When people think of hazardous work environments, retail usually isn’t at the top of the list, but there are many common hazards that retail workers face every day. In fact, the retail and wholesale industries experience around 800,000 serious injuries each year. By focusing on effective training, material handling, and housekeeping, along with slips, trips, and falls prevention, you can make your retail business safe and productive.
When you hire new employees, it’s your chance to make the right impression. Whatever happens in their first few days may make the difference between an employee making a full commitment to your company or becoming completely disengaged. A well thought out, documented training program can make the difference! 

After an employee has transitioned through the onboarding process, it’s time to begin educating them about proper attire, required personal protective equipment (PPE), company/department policies and procedures, and required training on OSHA topics. Best practice is to administer tests/quizzes after each block of instruction to ensure that the employee learned what you wanted them to know. Remember to document all employee training.  

Young Workers
Teenagers are twice as likely to get hurt on the job as their adult coworkers. Nationally, four million teenagers start summer jobs each year, and statistics show that 230,000 of them are injured each year.  
The exact cause of these injuries and deaths is often unclear. Some causes include lack of experience, limited safety knowledge, horseplay, lack of training, and lack of supervision. Young workers can be protected from workplace accidents, injuries, illnesses, and even possible death. Labor laws require employers to protect young workers. For more information on this topic, visit our youth worker safety and labor laws webpage
Proper material handling is critical to avoiding employee injuries. When storing/stacking items, follow these safety guidelines:

  1. To prevent materials from falling over, ensure they are not stacked too high.
  2. Store heavy and unstable items as low to the floor as possible.
  3. If items are to be handled manually, heavy items should be positioned in an employee’s “power zone” (between mid-thigh and mid-chest).
  4. Ensure loads are properly secured against movement on pallets, that pallets are in good condition, and the appropriate size and type for the load.
  5. Ensure there’s adequate space to allow workers, forklifts, and other lifting devices to move around the workplace safely and efficiently.
  6. Block or chock the bottom tier of round items so they don’t shift or roll.
  7. Ensure that materials aren’t stacked so high that they block sprinklers, could come into contact with ignition sources, or are near energized electrical wires.

For more information on material handling, visit the Material Handling Institute’s website.

Proper Lifting
Thousands of strain-related injuries occur every year because of improper lifting. It is imperative that your training program includes instructions on how to lift properly, including proper coupling, keeping loads in the “power zone,” and lifting with the legs instead of the back. For more information on this topic, view our Lifting 1-2-3-4 safety poster.

Cuts are common injuries in retail. Using an unguarded blade, or a dull/broken blade to open boxes or cut material, is a quick path to injury. Use a new, sharp blade. Where possible, the cutting motion should be in a direction away from your body. Only expose as much of the blade as you need for the job. When the blade is not in use, retract it. It is also a good idea to wear cut resistant gloves. For more information, see Box Cutter Safety.
Wind, rain, and snow all play a part in increasing the frequency of slip and trip injuries. Snow and ice raise special safety concerns because they increase the likelihood of slips and falls, particularly on stairs, ramps, slopes, parking lots, and steel. Tripping is more likely as objects are covered or frozen in the ground, or imperfections, like holes, are hidden beneath the snow. A coordinated program to remove ice and snow before employees arrive at work, with continued removal throughout the day, best controls the hazards of weather-related slips and falls. 

Slips and falls are also common indoors. Make sure there is good lighting in all work areas. Ensure that stairs have handrails and are kept free of clutter. Good housekeeping is important throughout your workplace. Immediately clean up any spills and debris, such as boxes, tools, and waste materials, as soon as possible. Mats should lay flat on the floor—if there are any folds or wrinkles, these could act as further tripping hazards. If there are areas where the walking surface is uneven, such a displaced tile, repair the area immediately and use cautionary signage until the repair is finished.
Wherever you work, it’s important to use the proper tool for the job. This means that job-appropriate ladders and stools should be used to reach heights; never try to balance on chairs, overturned buckets, or boxes. The height and type (A-frame, straight, etc.) of a ladder should be dictated by the situation and work to be performed. Ladders should be inspected on a periodic basis by a competent person. During this inspection, check for any structural damage or missing parts. Also, make sure that all rungs are in place and free of grease. While using the ladder, position it on a stable, level surface. Maintain three points of contact (either two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand) at all times while on the ladder. Never climb past the second rung from the top. When the ladder is not in use, store it properly and keep it far from doorways and other locations where it might cause a hazard. 
Preventing injuries in retail stores—housekeeping is key!  
Good Housekeeping

  • Good housekeeping prevents accidents and increases production. 
  • Keep everything in its place and have a place for everything. This speeds up service. 
  • Keep all cords (including telephone cords and wires) untangled. 
  • Only eat, drink, and smoke in permitted areas. 
  • Keep lighting fixtures clean and replace all burned out bulbs immediately. 
  • Never leave materials on stairs or in aisles.
  • Keep all drawers closed.
  • Make sure no sharp edges are sticking out. 

Keep Floors Dry

  • Check entryways frequently and keep the floor dry. 
  • Post a “wet floor” sign when cleaning up spills at an entryway.
  • Wear well-fitting, non-slip footwear.
  • Report spills to your supervisor.

Prevent Store Fires

  • Review the emergency evacuation and fire prevention plan. 
  • Know the location of fire extinguishers and escape routes. 
  • If a fire is spotted, sound the nearest alarm. 
  • Use a fire extinguisher only if proper training has been provided. 
  • Remove frayed, cracked, and damaged plugs immediately. 
  • Electrical plugs must match the outlets – use three-pronged plugs in three-pronged outlets. 
  • Establish an emergency evacuation plan and practice it with the employees. 
  • Check fire extinguishers monthly and keep fire sprinklers and fire doors maintained.