Wholesale and Retail Trade: Slips, Trips & Falls

Slips, Trips, and Falls

Slips, trips and falls are the third most common cause of lost-workday injuries in WRT establishments. Injuries from falls of all types cause a variety of strains, sprains, fractures, contusions, concussions, back injuries, paralysis, as well as fatalities, particularly when the fall is from a height.

Work-related falls are more common among older workers, with the highest rate occurring among workers older than 64 and with the highest frequency of falls occurring among workers aged 45-54. Falls to the same level are likely to increase as the working population ages [Socias-Morales, 2018].

All falls incidence rates for wholesale, retail and private industry, 2006-2016
All-falls-incidence-rates for wholesale, retail, and private industry from 2006-2016

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor


The incident rates for slips, trips, and falls have been relatively stable over the past decade between 2006 and 2016, averaging  26 per 10,000 FTE. Falls to the lower level, although not as frequent as falls to the same level, are responsible for more serious injuries as measured by the median number of days away from work.

In 2017 across the private industry, median number of days away from work from falls to a lower level accounted for 19 days, as compared to only 10 median days away from work when the fall was to the same level. Specifically, over a five-year span (2011-2016), falls to a lower level averaged 33 fatalities, compared to 21 fatalities for the falls to the same level. In general, falls and slips are responsible for 15% of all accidental deaths, the second leading cause behind motor vehicles and account for 25% of all reported injury claims. Another factor that influences the rate of falls is the type of retail or wholesale business where employees work.


Over the last 20 years or so, NIOSH safety researchers have examined the causes of falls and have compiled a list of hazards that are responsible for the majority of the falls in a range of industries that include construction, mining, manufacturing, and health services. The findings indicate that most STF incidents can be prevented with proper attention to the three categories of risk factors: workplace, work organization, and individual or personal factors.

However, there have been very few studies in the WRT sub-sectors that have dealt with the effectiveness of STF-related recommendations. The WRT sector is also unique because the workers are sharing their work space with the customers, which adds to the spills and clutter often found in food and beverage stores. NIOSH researchers are seeking to work with insurers, employers, and labor organizations to assess the effectiveness of the fall-related prevention strategies. Cost benefit studies are needed to provide the economic incentive for adopting the various prevention strategies.


Peers and stakeholders used the NIOSH Workplace Safety WRT document Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls in the Wholesale and Retail Trade Establishments in ongoing training courses that focused on preventing traumatic injuries in the workplace. The training courses conducted at both academic sites and by safety training experts ranged from 25 to 70 midlevel staff from mostly large retail companies. The document was also posted on the websites of the Loss Prevention Foundation and the Ergonomic Assist Systems & Equipment industry group websites. Liberty Mutual, a worker’s compensation underwriter that serves several large WRT companies, recognized and promoted it as an important document for their field investigative teams that followed up on fall-related injuries among retail establishments.

Many of the recommendations have been adopted by retail and wholesale companies that have had high rates of injuries from falls, according to reports by safety practitioners at ergonomic conferences. This document filled an important gap as it focused on retail and wholesale establishments.

Page last reviewed: November 5, 2019