Wholesale and Retail Trade: Muscular Skeletal Disorders

Muscular Skeletal Disorders

One of the most frequently reported WRT injury and illness outcomes of overexertion injuries are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). As of 2011, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include cases where the nature of the injury or illness is sprains, strains, pinched nerve; herniated disc; meniscus tear; and various connective soft tissue injuries when the event or exposure leading to the injury or illness is “overexertion and bodily reaction,” which can be caused by repetitive motion, awkward postures, excessive force, and vibration.

MSDs as a work-related injury and illness outcome may be responsible for the more costly WRT worker compensation claims, resulting in lost productivity, lost wages, and employees suffering and pain.

The graphic illustrates MSD changes in incidence rates for the wholesale, retail trade sectors and private industry from 2006 through 2016. Overall, MSD rates for the private industry and wholesale and retail sectors had a downward trend through 2016.

Incidence rates for musculoskeletal disorders, 2006-2016
Musculoskeletal-disorders-injury-incidence-rates for wholesale, retail and private industry from 2006-2016

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor


Over the last decade, between 2006 and 2016, the incident rate (IR) for overexertion and bodily reactions  across all industries remained relatively stable, averaging 31 per 10,000 full-time workers. Both wholesale (40.4 per 10,000 workers) and retail trade (36.4 per 10,000 workers) incidence rates were higher for fulltime workers when compared across all industries.

The retail subsectors with the highest rates for overexertion and bodily reactions include building material and gardening supply stores, non-store retailers, general merchandise or department stores, furniture and home furnishing stores, and motor vehicle and parts dealers. For the Wholesale sector, merchants of non-durable goods in subsectors alcoholic, beverage merchant wholesalers, grocery and related product wholesalers, petroleum merchant wholesalers, and lumber and construction supply merchant wholesalers had the highest rates of overexertion and bodily reactions.


Until the NIOSH Wholesale and Retail Trade Program was created in 2006, information on the hazards, risks, and morbidity and mortality in the WRT sector was scarce. There are few organized efforts to intervene in WRT to address the greatest hazards and risks. NIOSH is uniquely positioned to make a difference for the health and safety of workers in WRT due to partnerships it has developed. Continuing assessment is essential to protect this vulnerable workforce.


NIOSH is the leading U.S. federal agency investigating the causes of MSDs and back injury. NIOSH’s leading role in MSD research had its origins in in three international symposiums, held in 1972, 1974, and 1976 that served as the foundation for NIOSH’s subsequent 1981, Work Practice Guide to Manual Lifting, which was followed up in 1994 with the Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation. NIOSH staff have continued in this tradition of cutting edge MSD research and publications. NIOSH work in this area is valued by both the public and private professional organizations  by offering an evidence-based approach to research and subsequent interventions designed to prevent MSDs.

The WRT Program has worked extensively with the employers and trade associations to conduct research on manual material handling to prevent MSDs. Recently, NIOSH published Ergonomic Solutions for Retailers: Prevention of Material Handling Injuries in Grocery Stores eDoc, designed for employers to illustrate the use of mechanical assist devices for reducing injuries in retail grocery stores. It was identified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and additional safety publications as an important resource for preventing MSDs in high-risk food and beverage retail sectors.

Studies related to economic burden have been presented in several conferences and have been well acclaimed by the audience that involved other well-known economists. Successful completion of the ongoing studies related to economic burden will be the first attempt to evaluate costs of occupational injuries in WRT sectors and will shed some light on the true burden of occupational injuries in this sector.

Page last reviewed: November 5, 2019