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Safety during the shopping season: NIOSH

The practice of American shoppers looking for a deal on the Friday after Thanksgiving has evolved into a four-day retail event ending with Cyber Monday.  This shopping bonanza leading off the holiday shopping season has implications for workers who may have long workdays and expanded work schedules. The approaching season offers an ideal time for a workplace safety refresher for those retail employers and employees who are on the front lines of the shopping frenzy.

Stress and Fatigue

According to The Toolbox, a loss control newsletter, “A common cause of fatigue in employees in the retail industry is working extended or irregular shifts…that is working longer than 8-hours or anything that limits the opportunity to get adequate sleep between work shifts” [Member Insurance 2016].

While employees do benefit from the extra pay, they earn by working additional hours, lost sleep and lost family time may be high costs that affect employees’ health and well-being. In 2016, 24% of American employees reported that work regularly interferes with their ability to meet personal and family obligations [APA 2017]. See the NIOSH Stress at Work topic page for more information. Workplace stress can lead to increased risk of injury. As employees’ work demands are increased and combined with long work hours, less attention may be paid to safe work practices increasing the risk of injury and back pain from slips, falls and excessive manual lifting [Dall’Ora 2016].

Crowd Management and Violence

Crowds of customers anxiously waiting to be helped add yet another layer of stress. Such workplace job demands, along with a lack of control worker’s may have over their work environment, can increase the risk of frustration and can lead to angry verbal exchanges and even violence in the extreme [Levy, et al. 2017 and Whiting 2017]. The NIOSH Occupational Violence topic page contains research focused on preventing workplace violence.

In 2008, a worker was trampled to death while a mob of shoppers rushed through the doors of a large store to take advantage of a Black Friday sales event. In response to such tragedies, OSHA developed a fact sheet containing recommendations for crowd management measures.

Retailers should be aware of the fact that work stress can negatively affect their employees’ mental and physical health. Being prepared and having plans in place can help reduce anxiety and assure that employees feel safe, supported, confident, and empowered to respond accordingly when needed in situations in which safety is at risk.

For more information about designing programs to support well-being, please see NIOSH Total Worker Health® Essential Elements of Effective Workplace Programs and Policies for Improving Worker Health and Wellbeing. Assuring that employees feel safe, supported, and have access to these beneficial programs can help mitigate the harmful effects of workplace stress, and bolster employee well-being that benefits individuals as well as their employers!