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November 29, 2021
Labor Department reminds retailers to ensure worker safety

On November 22, the Department of Labor (DOL) reminded retailers to both properly pay workers and ensure their health and safety during the holiday shopping season. Federal wage regulations are administered by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates worker health and safety.

OSHA urged retail employers to ensure they properly train all workers, especially new and seasonal workers, to recognize and prevent workplace hazards. The agency emphasized the need to protect workers from the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. OSHA’s employer assistance resources include a fact sheet on protecting retail workers from the virus.

An OSHA emergency temporary standard (ETS) that would require employers with 100 or more employees to implement a program of COVID-19 vaccination or regular testing and face coverings to protect unvaccinated workers was indefinitely stayed November 12 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. While the agency has an ETS for COVID-19 prevention programs for healthcare facilities and support services, it uses its authority under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in nonhealthcare workplaces.

OSHA encouraged retail employers to plan ahead if large crowds are expected for holiday shopping events and to take steps to ensure workers remain safe. The agency offered a fact sheet with crowd management safety guidelines for the retail trade and has a 40-page guide for workplace violence prevention in late-night retail establishments.

“All workers – from those starting their first job to those making some extra money as a seasonal worker to those year-round employees – are entitled to a workplace free from hazards and to be trained in a language they understand to recognize and prevent hazards,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Safety and Health Doug Parker said in an agency statement.

“The holiday season is typically a very busy time for businesses, and just as consumer demands increase, so must an employer’s awareness of keeping their employees safe,” Parker continued.

Parker, OSHA’s first administrator since David Michaels left at the end of the Obama administration, is the former chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).

OSHA offers a collection of employer resources on holiday workplace safety for warehousing, delivery, and retail workers, as well as offers guidance on helping protect workers involved in online order fulfillment and delivery. Additionally, OSHA has guidance for keeping workers safe throughout every part of the e-commerce industry, including:

The agency also has ergonomics guidance for warehouse employers, as repetitive tasks in warehouses have been known to contribute to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

“If you’re hiring new or temporary workers for the holidays, it’s important to train them for the risks they may encounter on the job,” Jim Frederick, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, says. Frederick also reminds retail employers that hire workers under 18 for the holiday shopping season to protect their young employees.

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