Wholesaling is often characterized by high value and/or bulk volume transactions, and customers are generally reached through trade-specific contacts. Therefore, premises are not generally located or designed to attract a high proportion of walk-in customers, and usually include warehouses or large storage facilities, or offices with little or no display of goods. Most jobs are in commission-based wholesaling and include the sales of grocery items, liquor and tobacco, machinery and equipment, motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts, pharmaceutical and toiletry goods, textile, clothing and footwear, furniture, and floor coverings.

Although the thought of as a low-risk industry, the employees within the Wholesale and Retail Trade (WRT) sector experience a proportionally higher number of injury/illnesses and sustain a higher rate of overexertion related disabling (condition causes an employee to take one or more days off work) disorders when compared to private industry in general, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data performed by NIOSH.

The WRT sector incurred an average of nearly 20% of all private industry injury/illnesses while employing approximately 15-16% of private-sector workers from 2003 to 2007. For both 2005 and 2006, the WRT sector had a greater number of days-away-from-work (DAFW) than other industries considered as having greater hazards such as construction, manufacturing, and health care/social assistance sectors.

The WRT program helps lead the NIOSH NORA Wholesale and Retail Trade Sector Council, which brings together individuals and organizations to share information, form partnerships, and promote the adoption and dissemination of solutions that work. The Council seeks to facilitate the most important research, understand the most effective intervention strategies, and learn how to implement those strategies to achieve sustained improvements in workplace practice. The council authored the National Occupational Research Agenda for Wholesale and Retail Trade. More information can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/nora/councils/wrt/agenda.html

The incidence rate of overexertion-related DAFW injury/illness in 2006 was greater for both wholesale (35.4 cases per 10,000 FTE) and retail (39.8 cases per 10,000 FTE) workers compared to private industry (30.8 cases per 10,000 FTE). The WRT subsectors with the highest incidence rate of overexertion related DAFW included:

  • Beer/wine/and distilled alcoholic beverages wholesalers – 114.9/10,000 FTE
  • Tire dealers’ retailers – 102.1/10,000 FTE
  • Other home furnishings store retailers – 86.5/10,000 FTE
  • Home centers retailers – 82.9/10,000 FTE, and
  • Farm products and raw material wholesalers – 79.0/10,000 FTE

Overexertion event/exposure is significant among the subsectors of beer/wine/and distilled alcoholic beverages wholesalers, tire dealers’ retailers, other home furnishings store retailers, home centers retailers, and farm products and raw material wholesalers. Although forklifts are used to transfer goods from the trailer to the warehouse and goods within the warehouse, there

is manual material handling. Claims data reveals losses from the manual lifting of stacks, bundles, rolls of raw materials, and finished products of various shapes, sizes, and weights.

Lifting is associated with back and shoulder injuries involving excessive bending, twisting, and reaching for the product as in the picking process, and trailer unloading. Excessive and inefficient material handling reduces productivity and business profits.

Wholesale distributor employees are exposed to incidents of vapors, gases, fumes, irritants to the skin and eyes, and occupational hearing loss. Frostbite incidents are associated with external weather conditions and working inside refrigerated coolers and freezers. These refrigerated coolers and freezers typically use anhydrous ammonia or liquefied carbon dioxide.

The supply chain is the cornerstone to the distribution cycle as it ties raw material supplies to the final customer delivery items. As a result, pricing of goods and Lean processes for storage and retrieval is imperative. To handle warehouse activities, software programs are used for functions such as inventory controls, shipping and receiving, accounting, client management, and bar­ coding, i.e., the application of computerized UPC codes to track inventory. While technology has This section includes establishments or places of business primarily engaged in selling merchandise to retailers; to industrial, commercial, institutional, farm, construction contractors, or professional business users; or to other wholesalers; or acting as agents or brokers in buying merchandise for or selling merchandise to such persons or companies.

The chief functions of establishments included in Wholesale Trade are selling goods to trading establishments, or to industrial, commercial, institutional, farm, construction contractors, or professional business users; and bringing buyer and seller together. In addition to selling, functions frequently performed by wholesale establishments include maintaining inventories of goods; extending credit; physically assembling, sorting, and grading goods in large lots; breaking bulk and redistribution in smaller lots; delivery; refrigeration; and various types of promotion such as advertising and label designing.

The principal types of establishments included are (1) merchant wholesalers-wholesalers who take title to the goods they sell, such as wholesale merchants or jobbers, industrial distributors, voluntary group wholesalers, exporters, importers, cash-and-carry wholesalers, drop shippers, truck distributors, retailer cooperative warehouses, terminal elevators, cooperative buying associations, and assemblers, buyers or cooperatives engaged in the marketing of farm products; (2) sales branches and sales offices (but not retail stores) maintained by manufacturing, refining or mining enterprises apart from their plants or mines for the purpose of marketing their products; and (3) agents, merchandise or commodity brokers, and commission merchants.

Establishments primarily engaged in selling merchandise to construction contractors, institutions, industrial users, or businesses are included in Wholesale Trade with a few exceptions. These exceptions are made necessary because of sales to both the general public for personal or household consumption and to businesses, industrial users, or construction contractors. These exceptions are lumber yards; paint, glass, and wallpaper stores, typewriter stores; stationery stores; and gasoline service stations which are classified in Retail Trade, Division G.

However, establishments that sell similar products only to institutions, industrial users, and establishments that sell merchandise for use exclusively by business establishments or to other wholesalers are classified in Wholesale Trade. Establishments primarily engaged in selling such merchandise as plumbing equipment; electrical supplies; used automobile parts; and office furniture is classified in Wholesale Trade, even if a higher proportion of their sales is made to individuals for household use. Establishments primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of used products are classified on the basis of the products sold.

Guidelines for the classification of establishments primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution and construction or installation of equipment manufactured by other establishments are outlined in the Introduction to Division C, Construction.

This section includes establishments primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of new and used passenger automobiles, trucks, trailers, and other motor vehicles, including motorcycles, motor homes, and snowmobiles. Automotive distributors primarily engaged in selling at retail to individual consumers for personal use, and also selling a limited amount of new and used passenger automobiles and trucks at wholesale, are classified in Retail Trade, Industry 5511. Also included in this section are establishments engaged in the wholesale distribution of motor vehicle supplies, accessories, tools, and equipment; and new motor vehicle parts along with tires and tubes for passenger and commercial vehicles.

Some establishments are primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of furniture, including bedsprings, mattresses, and other household furniture; office furniture; and furniture for public parks and buildings. Other establishments are primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of partitions, shelving, lockers, and store fixtures are classified in Industry 5046.

Another sector of establishments is primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of home furnishings and housewares, including antiques; china; glassware and earthenware; lamps (including electric); curtains and draperies; linens and towels; and carpets, linoleum, and all other types of hard and soft surface floor coverings. Establishments primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of other electrical household goods are classified in Industry 5064, and those distributing precious metal flatware are classified in Industry 5094.

Establishments, with or without yards, are primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of rough, dressed, and finished lumber (but not timber); plywood; reconstituted wood fiber products; doors and windows and their frames (all materials); wood fencing; and wood or metal millwork.

Other establishments are primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of stone, cement, lime, construction sand, and gravel; brick (except refractory); asphalt and concrete mixtures; and concrete, stone, and structural clay products (other than refractories). Distributors of industrial sand and of refractory materials are classified in Industry 5085. Establishments primarily engaged in producing ready-mixed concrete are classified in Manufacturing, Industry 3273.

Establishments primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of photographic equipment and supplies. Establishments primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of photocopy, microfilm, and similar equipment are classified in Industry 5044. This section includes establishments that are primarily engaged in the wholesale distribution of refrigeration equipment and supplies.

The following table represents only the potential occupational health concerns related to the entire wholesale trade for both durable and nondurable goods industry based on a job task or work activity, and any related OSHA standards for regulatory compliance. The information presented does not

indicate or suggest a relative risk of exposure based on the location within the table nor provides any exposure information. Health risks associated with fatigue, working long hours, stress living away from home, and other psychosocial disorders are not addressed. The focus of this information is to provide guidance to understand the occupational health hazards from chemical substances, physical and biological agents, radiological, ergonomic, and environmental hazards from exposure to plants and animals. Potential occupational health exposures in this industry were contrived from the OSHA Integrated Management Information System database between 1984 to 2020.

OSHA has created an eTool for grocery warehouse workers to protect them against hazards associated with transport, storage, and packaging. Work practices are provided to assist with training and education. A grocery warehouse has three main functions: (1) receive bulk goods from the supplier, (2) order picking desired goods within the warehouse, and (3) ship goods to the customers. This eTool* describes example ergonomic hazards and solutions with an emphasis on traditional order picking, which accounts for a large number of musculoskeletal disorders. However, many of the examples are also applicable to the other types of order picking like flow-through, belt pick, and cross-docking. Visit: https://www.osha.gov/etools/grocery-warehousing

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Worker Exposure Profiles in Wholesale Trade

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