Working conditions and physical demands of wholesale trade jobs vary greatly. Moving stock and heavy equipment can be strenuous, but freight, stock, and material movers may make use of forklifts in large warehouses. Workers in some automated warehouses use computer-controlled storage and retrieval systems that further reduce labor requirements. Employees in refrigerated meat warehouses work in a cold environment, and those in chemical warehouses often wear protective clothing to avoid harm from toxic chemicals. Outside sales workers are away from the office for much of the workday and may spend a considerable amount of time traveling. On the other hand, most management, administrative support, and marketing staff work in offices.
Overall, work in wholesale trade is relatively safe. In 2002, there were 5.2 work-related injuries or illnesses per 100 full-time workers, comparable with the rate of 5.3 per 100 for the entire private sector. Not all wholesale trade sectors are equally safe, however. Occupational injury and illness rates were considerably higher than the national average for wholesale trade workers who dealt with lumber and construction materials (6.7 per 100 workers); metals and minerals (8.7 per 100 workers); groceries (8.6 per 100 workers); and beer, wine, and distilled beverages (10.0 per 100 workers).
Most workers put in long shifts, particularly during peak times, and others, such as produce wholesalers, work unusual hours. The latter group of workers must be on the job early in the morning to receive shipments of vegetables and fruits, and they must be ready to deliver goods to local grocers at dawn.