As you would expect from a sector of such proportions and encompassing such a diverse range of businesses, the daily tasks completed by employees are extremely varied. Some will be members of a customer service team who spend most of their time on the shop floor, while others will have manual or inventory duties in a stock room or warehouse setting; for some, there may be only limited movement away from a checkout, while others will have days that consist mostly of manual lifting and carrying. The hazards of a retail workplace will depend on a broad range of factors including the size of the team, the different areas that make up the working environment, and the products stored and sold, so devising an effective health and safety plan may seem tricky at first – but it’s vital that employers prioritise safe working.
Health and safety to suit all sizes
The legal duty of retail employers, as with other types of employer, is covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It requires employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees. With such a broad duty to fulfil, retailers could be forgiven for feeling like protecting their employees is a near impossible task – but it’s important to remember that the legal requirements can be broken down into assessment and control of risk. Many of the risks associated with retail can be eliminated or reduced through good communication, effective housekeeping, common sense procedures and basic training. The most important thing is that retailers recognise their duty and act on it, rather than assuming that low risk probably means no risk.
While retail hazards may seem relatively few compared to manufacturing or construction, in a busy retail environment it can be easy for smaller dangers to be overlooked. Potential risks like blocked exits, poor product storage methods and lack of manual handling training can lead to accident and injury if not controlled. This can reduce productivity, increase illness absence, and lead to unnecessary costs for employers. It’s also vital that employers recognise that the regulation governing the use of work equipment and hand tools does apply to retail workers operating electronic point of sale machines to complete transactions, climbing on stools and step ladders to reach shelves or using knife blades to open boxes, as harmless as these activities may seem.
In recognition of the different challenges retailers may face, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has made it easier for small retail businesses to evaluate the dangers employees are exposed to by creating a shop risk assessment tool.
The tool helps employers in lower-risk retail environments to create a tailored assessment, focusing on the hazards to their workforce and how they might be addressed. It covers the most common causes of injury in the retail workplace, such as tripping hazards and falling objects as well as repetitive strain injury and musculoskeletal injury. It also asks retail employers to consider workplace transport, the potential for high or low temperatures, the use of electrical equipment, timing of breaks and the presence of any flammable stock.
For larger retail organisations, the emphasis is on establishing best practice across all sites. This can be problematic where premises are spread over different local authority areas but has been made simpler by the Better Regulation Delivery Office’s (BRDO) Primary Authority scheme. The scheme gives a business the right to form a statutory partnership with a single local authority. This helps to ensure that a consistent approach to health and safety regulation can be ensured across the entire business.
The ongoing problem of trips and slips
Trips and slips remain the single most common cause of major injury in the retail workplace. Most accidents occur when spills are not cleaned up or when floors remain wet and slippery after cleaning. For a large retailer, a single slip could cost £15K or more. The HSE provides special guidelines* for preventing slips and trips in retail.
The dangers of violence and lone working
Violence against retail workers is unfortunately a growing problem and one which many employers are obliged to factor into their health and safety assessments. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) reports** that 13 retail workers are injured every single day and that the rate of reported violence with injury has doubled over a year to 6 per 1,000 workers. This is not only a concerning statistic, it also highlights the additional cost that crime creates for retail businesses, who must also deal with customer theft. In fact, the BRC estimates that crime is now costing the retail sector more than £700 million each year.
For retailers, tackling the risk of violence is a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act in the same way as dealing with any other possible cause of harm in the workplace. Whether physical or verbal, violence can have a long-term impact on both employees and the businesses they work for, causing issues such as high staff turnover, work-related stress, and a damaged business reputation – and risks are often higher in licensed premises, where there are younger workers or where workers spend time alone on the premises, particularly at night.
Violence against workers can be another unpredictable area where employers may feel as if the protection they can provide is limited. However, there are clear guidelines available and sensible steps which can be taken to lessen the risk of violence. These include the provision of conflict management training for employees, thinking about shift patterns to avoid lone working at times of highest risk and installing extra security measures where appropriate.
Reporting of in-store is an important of health and safety within the retail environment. To learn more about how we helped Debenhams deploy a bespoke in-store incident reporting system, read our case study here.
*To read the HSE special guidelines for preventing slips and trips in retail, click here.
**Download the full 2017 retail crime survey from The British Retail Consortium (BRC) here.