Preparing to work with Covid as a retailer

Published: 26th May 2020

In this article, we will be looking at what retailers should be considering when preparing to open outlets to customers and, work with covid risks.


As a retailer and employer, you have a fundamental responsibility to ensure so, far as reasonably practicable the:

  • health, safety and welfare of all of your employees – including yourself.
  • and, the health safety and welfare of customers and others who are on your premises or may be affected by what you do and don’t

If you are a retailer working in an outlet owned or also worked by another retailer, you should also be working together to resolve issues so, lets think about the potential risks….

Remember, its important to work together.  Employees have the right under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1995 to withdraw their services if it is ‘too dangerous to continue’.  The HSE and the Local Authority can also issue improvement notices or take enforcement action to ensure retailers take account of safety.

Of course, we want to avoid all of this.  Equally, we want to avoid complaints, conflict with our staff (and others) and any employment issues that might arise as well.

So what should you consider?

When preparing to work within the retail sector and encounter covid 19 risks, you should carry out a thorough risk assessment which includes those covid risks.  Ideally this should be written down – it must be in writing if you have 5 or more employees.

You must share your risk assessment with your employees and include them in consultations.  They will undoubtedly have concerns and, of course may provide some really good solutions.  Further, by consulting them you will build their trust and confidence as well.

The hierarchy of control is a good starting point.  Let’s have a look at this:


Image result for hierarchy of control

The Hierarchy of control has 5 elements

These are:

  • Firstly, elimination.  Can we eliminate the hazard? (Of course, we can’t eliminate the disease but we may eliminate an activity or service that puts us at risk?)
  • Followed by substitution, Can we substitute the activity, action, product or service with something else.  In this way, we make it safer?
  • If these are not feasible, can we instead make, install or ‘engineer’ something to make the activity safer?
  • Alternatively, can we do something in the way we administer our business – such as provide training, guidance, change staffing levels what makes it safer?
  • Lastly, we should also consider personal protective equipment (PPE) as a ‘last resort’.  We shouldn’t rely on PPE alone though

Of course, we can have two or more different controls together to really make things safer on many occasions.

In effect, the hierarchy of control says that we shouldn’t do something at the lower end of the pyramid instead of something that could be done higher up it.

Thinking about preparing to work with covid 19 risks

So, now let’s look at what you as retailers preparing to work with covid should think about before you re-open (and afterwards)!

  • How many staff do you need working at any one time? – Can some be furloughed or, work from home?  You might need a reserve ready to step in if someone goes sick.  You should keep the same teams working with each other as much as possible to limit risk of spreading the virus
  • Ensure that staff (or customers) who have symptoms know that they must not come onto the premises.  Signs on entry points reinforce this.  If you have staff with symptoms or who have family members who have symptoms, they must stay away and self isolate.

Getting into and out of work with covid 19 risks

  • Getting into and out of workplaces and, secure areas.  Car share schemes might not be a great idea at the moment.  Stagger start and finish times for staff to reduce congestion at entry and exit points.  Consider deactivating push button entry points to showing identity cards to security staff at a distance.
  • Hand washing and hand sanitisers.  These should be placed at entry and exit points where push button and other physical contact entry points are used
  • Clinically vulnerable customers and staff.  Think about your customers and staff.  Can you re-deploy a clinically vulnerable staff member so they are less at risk.  Who are your customers and do they need segregating to ensure vulnerable people feel safer.  You could open up at set times only for elderly and vulnerable customers if relevant.
  • Social distancing.  2 metres apart wherever possible.  Can you put tape down on the floor to mark where to stand if queuing?  Can you use tape to mark one – way systems or, re-arrange aisles/block off aisle ends?  Where its not possible to separate staff by this much, consider ‘back to back’ or ‘side to side’ working.
  • Screens.  Can you build screens at till points to limit risks to staff and customers?

Queue management – preparing to work with covid 19 risks

  • Queues.  You are very likely to experience these and, they certainly need managing.  An orderly queue is a safe queue.  Not only for your outlet but for others nearby too.  You must manage queues with someone who has good communication skills.  This colleague should build a rapport with customers, and keep them informed.  For example, telling them what’s happening and how long they might have to wait.  If you have special measures in place like ‘card only’ payment, customers need to know at the outset to avoid serious conflict which you can pretty well guarantee will happen at some point if you don’t.  For example, think how you’d feel if you queued for 15 minutes and were only told at a till point that the cash you were going to use isn’t being accepted – particularly if you don’t have your cards with you.
  • Your queue manager needs clear instructions.  You need to consider what you expect them to do if someone is disruptive and won’t queue?, or they witness an argument or a theft.  (We cover managing conflict in a later article).
  • A point often overlooked is that if you use someone who isn’t an employee to manage your queue, that person MUST be qualified and licensed to do this role otherwise you are likely to be breaking the law.  (A currently licensed Door Supervisor or Security Guard is probably who you need).

Think about transacting business – working with covid 19 risks

  • Baskets and trolleys. Customers need confidence these are clean and safe.  You can reassure customers by either cleaning them in front of them or, allow them to do it themselves.  Customers might also want to put goods in their own bags instead of a basket.  There is nothing in law that says they can’t however; decide on a policy and communicate it.  Most customers are honest and will pay but you need to make the decision beforehand to avoid conflict between staff and customers.
  • Hygiene.  Provide more frequent hand-washing and hand sanitising opportunities for staff and customers.  Consider also, hand drying options when soap and water are used….disposable paper towels or air dryers.  Linen towels are to be discouraged
  • Customers handling goods or trying garments and shoes on.  Do you want this?  There are a number of concerns here.  For example, goods which have the virus on being handled or worn by someone else or handled by staff who become infected.  Can you select goods for customers to picking things up?
  • Also, are you using changing rooms?  If you are, this needs communicating.  W returns policy do you have? How do you isolate returns until you know they are safe?   If you are not closing them, how do you ensure that contaminated garments are not tried on by different customers or put back on display for purchase?  Additionally, can you have key operated, supervised and regularly cleaned changing rooms to limit congestion and risk
  • Lifts, escalators and stairs.  What are your arrangements for sanitising these areas?  You should limit lift use to people with disabilities to cut down occupancy.
  • Ventilation.  Can you allow fresh air easily without compromising security?  If using air conditioning, can humidity levels be increased to cause any virus lose its airborne capability more quickly?

Now I am prepared to work with covid 19 risks, what next?

Have a look at our other articles on working with covid 19 risks for more information or, contact us and we will be pleased to discuss this with you.



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