It’s Surprising Which Industry Is Now More Dangerous Than Manufacturing

These jobs don’t appear risky, but BLS data shows that workers in this sector are getting injured more frequently than those on the factory floor.  
By: | December 16, 2019

The dangers of working in manufacturing are evident — any time heavy machinery is present, the risk of injury is obvious. Sprains and strains resulting from repetitive motion are common as well.

But another sector has surpassed manufacturing on the list of most dangerous jobs — retail.

The frazzled employees you see on your holiday shopping trip to the mall are, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more likely to get hurt at work than an employee on the factory floor.

Retail Workers at Risk

The rate of nonfatal workplace illness and injury among retail workers had been falling steadily since 2004 until the Bureau registered an uptick in 2018. Last year, there were 3.5 injuries or illnesses reported per 100 workers — up from 3.3 per 100 workers in 2017.

Manufacturing, by comparison, saw 3.4 injuries per 100 workers in 2018.

The overall number of injuries or illnesses in retail was up 4%, standing at 409,900. Of these injuries, roughly a third resulted in a worker missing at least one day of work. The injuries most likely to result in time off were overexertion, contact with equipment and slips, trips & falls.

According to a review of the BLS data by the LA Times, pet supply stores were the riskiest establishment to work in, with about 7 injuries reported per 100 workers. Behind them, retail employees working in stores selling home furnishings and building materials were also at increased risk.

The data is consistent with findings from other studies. Liberty Mutual’s Annual Workplace Safety Index, for example, found these same events to be the top three causes of workplace injury, resulting in the greatest costs to employers.

The Cost of Workplace Injuries

Annually, injuries related to overexertion — including strains and sprains from moving heavy objects — cost employers $13.1 billion. Slips and falls cost $10.4 billion, and workers getting struck by equipment cost $5.2 billion.

On average, U.S. companies lose more than $1 billion per week due to disabling workplace injuries. Illness-related lost productivity costs them another $530 billion per year, according to a report from the Integrated Benefits Institute.

In retail, the uptick in injuries has been attributed to the high-stress holiday shopping season. Despite a shift to online shopping, consumers still like to visit malls and shopping centers to check off their list. Only one in eight Americans do all of their holiday shopping online. This year, holiday retail sales are projected to be bigger than ever, reaching a record-high $729.3 billion.

That means stores will be inundated by customers and by inventory, and workers will likely be putting more hours in to meet the demand.

What Employers Can Do

Some basic precautions can minimize the risk of slips and falls: Replace any frayed or upturned carpet; use the correct floor cleaner that doesn’t leave a slick residue behind; set up warning signs or otherwise bring attention to any elevation changes in the floor; and ask employees to wear slip-resistant shoes.

As for overexertion and musculoskeletal injuries, employers should review basic lifting techniques and encourage employees to stretch and warm up before moving something heavy. Optimizing schedules during the busy season can be challenging, but employers should make sure to give workers adequate breaks and avoid over-scheduling to reduce fatigue.

Proper planning and training at the forefront can help to keep injuries down and productivity high not just during the hectic holidays season, but all year long. &

Katie Dwyer is a freelance editor and writer based out of Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].