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National Emphasis Program Tackles High Injury-Illness Rate for Warehouses, Distribution Centers, and Retailers

With a rise in employment comes a trend in workplace injuries and illnesses across the industry—one that OSHA is implementing measures to address.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the warehousing and distribution center industry experienced a massive growth in employment, increasing from nearly 700,000 to over 1.7 million employees over the course of a decade.

OSHA also states that between 2017 and 2021, “the five-year average incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses and the average Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART) rate in establishments associated with warehousing and distribution center operations, mail processing and distribution centers, couriers/express delivery services, and local messengers and local delivery industries, were significantly higher than the baseline private general industry rates.”

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that injury and illness rates in warehousing and distribution centers, mail/postal processing and distribution centers, parcel delivery/courier services, and “high injury rate retail establishments” are significantly higher than for other establishments. “High injury rate retail establishments” include employers with the following North American Industry Classification System codes: 444110 (home centers), 444130 (hardware stores), 444190 (other building material dealers), 445110, (supermarkets and other grocery stores), and 452311 (warehouse clubs and supercenters).

National Emphasis Program

In response to these trends, OSHA released a national emphasis program (NEP) focusing on warehousing and distribution centers, as well as certain “high injury retail establishments.” The first 90 days following the publication of the NEP are to be used for outreach and education on the program, and inspections will begin thereafter. The program is set to expire in July 2026.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker reinforced the importance of the NEP saying, “This emphasis program allows OSHA to direct resources to establishments where evidence shows employers must be more intentional in addressing the root causes of worker injuries and align their business practices with the goal to ensure worker health and safety.”

Inspections by NEP will be comprehensive and focused on the most common hazards, including powered industrial vehicle operations, material handling and storage operations, walking-working surfaces, means of egress, and fire protection. Heat and ergonomic hazards will also be considered during such inspections. Uniquely, high injury rate retail establishment inspections will focus on loading and storage areas, but they can be expanded if “there is evidence that violative conditions may be found in other areas” of those establishments.

The impact of this NEP for employers in the designated industries remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, though, it will lead to increased inspections and open the possibility of citations and penalties. Employers in these industries may want to act now during the 90-day outreach period by conducting reviews of their safety and health programs and educating their safety personnel and managers on what to do if OSHA arrives for an inspection.

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Tonya Read
Project Manager, Environmental & Energy Solutions

Harry Pullum
Project Manager, Environmental & Energy Solutions

Brad Jinkins
IH-Safety Practice Lead

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