July 19, 2023Client Alert

OSHA: Targeting Warehouses, Distribution and Retail

Are you a Target?
Effective July 13, 2023, OSHA has launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) targeting inspections on workplace hazards in warehouses, processing facilities, distribution centers, and high-risk retail establishments. According to OSHA, in the past 15 years, the number of employees in the warehousing and distribution industry has nearly tripled, ballooning to employ more than 1.9 million people as of June 2023. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, injury and illness rates for the industry are higher than private industry overall, and more than twice the rate of private industry in the Couriers and Express Delivery Services and General Warehousing and Storage subsectors. The data used to identify these industry groups is based on years 2017-2021. This data includes two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, which were significantly worse for the industry than pre-pandemic years.  Whether it is fair to use statistics connected with the pandemic-era workload experienced by food distribution and retail employers that kept us supplied, OSHA is moving forward with this NEP targeting program. 

OSHA believes warehousing and distribution center operations pose a variety of safety and health hazards including, but not limited to, struck-by, caught-in-between, slips, trips and fall hazards; blocked aisle; means of egress; powered industrial vehicles and other material handling equipment; heat hazards; and ergonomic hazards. Also, retail establishments, such as discount (dollar) stores, are already making headlines for multimillion dollar fines, so it is not surprising OSHA added certain retail employers to the target list.

Scope of Inspections
Over the next several years, OSHA will conduct comprehensive safety inspections at industry establishments, with a focus on hazards related to powered industrial vehicle operations, material handling and storage, walking and working surface, means of egress, and fire protection. However, a comprehensive inspection is a substantially complete and thorough inspection of any, and all, potentially hazardous areas of an establishment, according to OSHA’s Field Operations Manual. Therefore, inspections will not be limited to the listed focus areas.  Evidence that can be used to expand the scope of inspections includes, but is not limited to, recorded injuries/illnesses in OSHA 300/301 logs, employee statements, or “plain view” observations. OSHA will also assess heat (indoor and outdoor) covered under the NEP, since this is one of OSHA’s key programs focusing on climate change.

Who is Covered?
The NEP covers establishments in the following NAICS codes:

Table 1. NAICS Codes for Warehousing and Distribution establishments covered under this NEP.
In addition to the above warehouse/distribution companies, the targeting program will include inspections of retail establishments with high injury rates, with a focus on storage and loading areas. According to OSHA’s Injury Tracking Application (ITA), the highest-risk retail establishments are in the NAICS codes provided below in Table 2.
Table 2. High Injury Rate Retail Establishments covered under this NEP.

How will Targeted Companies be Selected?
Each OSHA Area Office will be provided with two separate lists of establishments to be inspected: one list of warehouse/distribution companies - Table 1 above and a second list of a high-rate retail establishments - Table 2.  The Table 1 warehouse/distribution establishments will be selected for inspection on a random basis.  The Table 2 high-rate retail establishments will be selected based upon their own company location-specific injury and illness rates.  (those rates will be taken from the mandatory electronic reporting results based upon days away, restricted duty, or job transfer (DART rate)).

In addition to selection by random generation for warehouses (Table 1) and by DART incident rate for retail establishments (Table 2), companies in the industries listed above may be selected for one of these comprehensive inspection as a result of other unprogrammed inspections based on fatalities, catastrophes, complaints, or referrals even if the initial basis for the unprogrammed inspection is unrelated to the NEP.

This national emphasis program will remain in effect for three years, until July 13, 2026.

What Should Employers Do Now?
Employers in the industry NAICS codes above should develop a plan for inspection.  To assist companies in that effort, Michael Best is conducting a free webinar The webinar will cover criteria for selection under the targeting program, methods to avoid/cancel inspection, preparation for inspection, a walkthrough of Michael Best's proprietary protocol, legal defenses, and challenging inspections. As part of the webinar attendees will be provided Michael Best's proprietary comprehensive electronic Government Inspection Protocol at no cost. The protocol includes procedures and forms to prepare for managing and documenting government inspections, as well as a format for conducting training for anyone authorized to accompany government inspectors. 

Employers should also conduct an updated hazard assessment that focuses on hazards related to powered industrial vehicle operations, material handling and storage, walking and working surface, means of egress and fire protection.

Retail establishments should conduct similar hazard assessments focused on their back-of-house operations in storage and loading areas.

The summer of 2023 has already been one of the hottest summers on record and that trend is likely to continue over the next few years. Employers should reevaluate their indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards and ensure employees are properly trained on recognizing heat-related illnesses for themselves and for their coworkers. As part of the webinar, we will discuss how OSHA expects companies to address heat.

To learn more about our free webinar, please click here.


The authors would like to thank Michael Best Consulting Intern, Ryan J. Malliet, for his contributions to this piece.

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