Wholesale and Retail Trade

Program Impact

NIOSH is strongly committed to program evaluation as a way to maximize its contributions to improved occupational safety and health. Regular review of program activities, outputs, and outcomes is essential to demonstrating program performance. The Wholesale and Retail Trade (WRT) Program conducts reviews and shares program impact in a variety of ways.

Store employee demonstrating tool box to customers.

Program Performance One-pager

Program Performance One-Pagers (PPOPs) are a snapshot of NIOSH programs’ priorities, strategies used to make progress towards priorities, recent accomplishments, and upcoming work.

Wholesale and Retail Trade Program Performance One-pager

Impact Stories

WRT Program has been instrumental in breaking down long-standing barriers separating retail employers from government agencies.

The WRT program works with loss prevention experts who share the same basic goals as NIOSH in respect to safety and health. From there, the program has built partnerships with key trade associations that served the wholesale and retail trade sector and attended and presented at national conferences. This exposure has provided the opportunity for the WRT program to establish personal connections with loss prevention managers, who have since joined the NORA WRT Council. These loss prevention managers represent the top 20 leading retail businesses.

The WRT program has also established a close partnership with the Loss Prevention Foundation, which serves as the source for continuing education and certification for high-level managers. The Foundation posts NIOSH resources on its website, which has greatly expanded our reach. The WRT has also had letters of agreement with the Material Handling Industry of America, the Food Marketing Institute, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

In 2008, NIOSH WRT leadership recognized the need to show the value and impact of simple interventions for preventing back and musculoskeletal (MSD) injuries. The proposed demonstration projects were based on NIOSH experience using similar interventions in related labor-intensive industries, such as manufacturing and construction. To accomplish this, a series of six demonstration projects were conducted at one or more high-risk subsectors (store sites) to show the types of interventions available for reducing MSDs and related back injuries.

The reports from these demonstration projects proved invaluable in showing employers and employees examples of how ergonomically designed manual materials handling equipment could be used to reduce the physical burden of manual lifting. Manual lifting is largely responsible for near epidemic proportions of back problems and MSDs in the WRT sector. The demonstration projects showed how lifting-assist devices would allow a greater number of workers, many of them older, to perform material handling jobs without the added risk of injury and loss of work.

Two retail chains that served as demonstration sites were sufficiently impressed by the lift-assist devices. They further evaluated the demonstration interventions at other store sites. In one case, the retail chain expanded the study to more than 100 store sites. This is an example of the “ripple effect” resulting from an effective intervention.

Manual material handling accounts for the majority of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the WRT sector. NIOSH initiated a “Lift at the Right Height” campaign in 2008, in recognition of the growing rates of  overexertion injuries. The best lift is “no lift,” using equipment rather than physical strength to lift. In some cases, a simple “push or pull” action may be used instead of manual lifting.

NIOSH demonstration projects found that the primary impediment to achieving WRT lifting campaign goals was that most manual material handling equipment were insufficient.

The NIOSH WRT Program leadership and NORA WRT Sector Council saw the need for a new “line” of material handling equipment that would meet the needs of the WRT sector. To address this, NIOSH co-sponsored a series of workshops in 2012-2015 that brought together equipment designers/manufacturers with purchasers/users seeking solutions to manual lifting tasks. Some of the nation’s largest retailers participated, together accounting for nearly 6 million of the 15 million retail employees.

The workshops were successful in several ways. They stimulated follow-up and encounters between the solution providers and the WRT solution seekers. They also produced a collection of best practices involving the use of lift-assisting devices and  examples of how engineering controls can be used to reduce manual material handling and lifting injuries. From 2014 through 2015, the NIOSH WRT Program was informed of equipment purchases by several large retailers in conjunction with the manufacturers of ergonomic assist equipment.

The workshops provided the information to develop the NIOSH guidance document Ergonomic Solutions for Retailers: Prevention of Material Handling Injuries in the Grocery Sector.


1 Liberty Mutual is a major underwriter for workers’ compensation, serving a number of the large companies in the WRT sector.

Page last reviewed: May 21, 2018