Supermarket

Falls, lifting heavy loads, moving vehicles, and standing for long periods of time are just some of the ways that supermarket workers and others can be injured.

What are the risks?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), every business has a responsibility to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers, and that others are not put at risk by the work of the business (for example, customers, visitors, children and young people, or the general public).

First, you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

The following are examples of only some of the health and safety risks for people in the food retail sector. We also provide general guidance on how to manage your work health and safety risks.

Lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling heavy loads can put workers at risk of serious injury.

How are workers and others harmed?

Workers are at risk of injury from lifting and carrying particularly when:

  • a load is too heavy, it’s difficult to grasp, or it’s too large
  • the physical effort is too strenuous
  • they are required to bend and twist when handling heavy loads.

When a person reaches for items above shoulder height, their back becomes arched and their arms act as long levers. This makes the load difficult to control and significantly increases the risk of injury.

Injuries and conditions can include:

  • muscle sprains and strains
  • injuries to muscles, ligaments, intervertebral discs and other structures in the back
  • injuries to soft tissues such as nerves, ligaments and tendons in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck or legs
  • abdominal hernias
  • chronic pain.

Some of these conditions are known as repetitive strain injury (RSI), occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) and work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WRMSD).

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

Here are some examples:

  • Use mechanical lifting aids or lifting equipment and ensure they are used properly and maintained in accordance with manufacturer specifications.
  • Ensure store layout/design limits the need to push, pull or carry equipment or loads (for example, good path design, floor surfaces that allow pallets to be moved directly to storage areas).
  • Position shelving and racking in storage areas at accessible heights.
  • Ensure service counters and food preparation surfaces are between hip and waist height.
  • Train workers in proper lifting techniques.
  • Order stock in smaller volumes that are easier to store and lift.
  • Ensure workers are not exposed to repetitive or high impact work for long periods of time. Consider job sharing or job rotation.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Falls from ladders frequently cause serious injuries. If you need to work at height consider whether a ladder is right for the job you’re doing.

How are workers and others harmed?

Workers can be harmed by:

  • working at height without proper fall protection
  • not following safe work procedures
  • working on surfaces that are slippery or uneven
  • over exertion
  • insufficient training or planning
  • using the wrong tool for the job, for example, using a ladder when it’s not safe to do so. 
  • What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples when using ladders and stepladders:

  • Ladders and stepladders do not offer fall protection, and therefore should be the last form of work access equipment to be considered.
  • Ladders or stepladders should be used for low-risk and short-duration tasks. The user should maintain three points of contact with a ladder or stepladder to reduce the likelihood of slipping and falling.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Our working at height guidance has detailed information about working at height including using ladders and stepladders as a means of access. 

Lone workers – particularly those working late night shifts – may be at increased risk of being challenged or even violence. They can also be at increased risk of injury where some work tasks are more challenging to do unaccompanied.

How are workers and others harmed?

Lone workers can be at greater risk of threats, verbal or physical violence. This can affect workers physically and mentally, resulting in increased stress levels, decreased emotional wellbeing, reduced coping strategies and lower work performance.

Lone workers may also be in situations where they need to use machinery, manoeuvre equipment, lift heavy loads or use hazardous substances that may be too difficult or dangerous to be carried out unaccompanied.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

PCBUs should understand the situations where people work alone and consider some of the following questions:

  • Is there a safe way in and out of the workplace, for example, for a lone person working out of regular business hours where the workplace could be locked up?
  • What is the risk of violence and/or aggression?
  • Are there any reasons why the individual might be more vulnerable than others and be particularly at risk if they work alone (for example, if they are young, pregnant, have a medical condition, are disabled, or a trainee)?
  • Does the workplace present other specific risks to the lone worker, for example, handling equipment, such as portable ladders or trestles, that one person could have difficulty handling?
  • Are chemicals hazardous substances being used that may pose a particular risk someone working alone?
  • Does the work involve lifting objects too large for one person?
  • If the lone worker’s first language is not English, are suitable arrangements in place to ensure clear communications, especially in an emergency?

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Keep customers and workers safe by having a plan in place for the safe delivery and offload of goods.

How are workers and others harmed?

People could be harmed by:

  • being trapped between a vehicle and a structure
  • vehicles colliding with each other or a structure
  • being hit by a vehicle
  • items that fall off vehicles (unsecured or unstable loads)
  • falling from a vehicle.

Other things to take into account include:

  • drivers/operators/pedestrians affected by drugs, alcohol or fatigue (extreme tiredness).
  • drivers/operators/pedestrians affected by medical events (for example, heart attacks).
  • environmental conditions (slippery or unstable ground, low light, fog).
  • mechanical failure (for example, faulty steering or bad brakes).
  • driver distractions (for example, cell-phones, noise, work pressures, home pressures).
  • vehicles operated outside their limits or capabilities – the wrong vehicle for the job.
  • anything that might block the drivers’ view.

When a person is hit by a truck or other vehicle or equipment, or a vehicle or equipment hits something else, the consequences can be severe for the person and for the business. For example:

The person may suffer crush injuries or fractures, or die.
A business may have to deal with property damage, reputational damage, service disruption, and increased insurance costs.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Isolate vehicles and plant from people working on the site.
  • Ensure reversing warning devices (for example, sounds or lights) are working.
  • Turn on hazard lights if the vehicle is a temporary hazard.
  • Use spotters or dedicated traffic controllers to manage traffic and pedestrian movements.
  • Provide adequate lighting on site so drivers, workers and others can see what they are doing and can also be seen by others.
  • Encourage drivers visiting a site for the first time to walk the route and plan how they will move their vehicle around the site.
  • Consider having a policy and process for drug and alcohol screening /testing. (See Drugs, alcohol and work on the Employment New Zealand website.)
  • To minimise driver fatigue, manage when and how long drivers work.
  • Collaborate with other businesses on site to coordinate vehicle movements.
  • Where you can, have a one-way system to reduce the need for vehicles to reverse on site.
  • Provide warning signs at all entrances and exits to the site.
  • Ensure workers wear high visibility clothing.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.


Violence can take many forms – ranging from physical assault and verbal abuse to intimidation and low-level threatening behaviour. Violence or threats of violence in the workplace are never acceptable.

How are workers and others affected?

Violence at work can include attempted or actual physical assault, verbal abuse, intimidation, and low-level threatening behaviour.

Violence or threats of violence can come from customers, co-workers or even a worker’s family members or acquaintances.

Lone workers can be at greater risk.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

Here are some examples of things you can consider:

  • workplace layout (for example, a workplace layout must, so far as is reasonably practicable, allow people to enter, exit and move about without risks to health and safety – both under normal working conditions and in an emergency)
  • workplace policies and procedures (for example, how to deal with customers including what unacceptable behaviour is and what to do about it)
  • what to do in an emergency (for example, you must also provide adequate first aid equipment/facilities and access to first aiders)
  • training (for example, you must provide your workers with the training/supervision they need to work safely, such as procedures for working safely)
  • other security measures:
    • Panic buttons/duress alarms to seek help and alert other workers to potential danger.
    • CCTV with warning signs.
    • Signs that set out clear expectations of the behaviour of customers (eg no bad language, no verbal abuse, no physical intimidation) and the consequences of bad behaviour.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation. You should also have effective ways to investigate and deal with violence when it does occur.

For more information, see violence at work.