The UK government has produced Covid-secure guidance for those operating shops or branches. These apply widely to non-food stores, fashion stores and other types of retail ordered to close during the lockdown.
The guidelines also apply to shops allowed to remain open throughout the lockdown period, such as shops selling food, chemists and branches such as banks and other money businesses.
All businesses operating through shops and branches should consider the guidelines, either to prepare for reopening or so they can adapt existing practices to comply with government advice, bearing in mind that there could be further updates in the future.
Businesses operating in this sector should consider the following key principles:
1. Covid-19 risk assessments
In addition to the the risk assessments already deployed by retail businesses concerning their work activities, a Covid-19 risk assessment will need to be undertaken and should be completed before shops/branches re-open.
For shops/branches that are already open, assessments should be conducted as soon as possible.
The employer must make sure the risk assessment addresses the risks of Covid-19 and that suitable control measures are implemented to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level.
The employer should consult with workers and a health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union, or a representative chosen by workers, although there is no further guidance on what to do if risk assessments cannot be agreed.
There may be strong pushback by a number of workers and trade unions in connection with risk assessments in this sector due to the nature of the work activities and the risk of proximity in performing certain tasks, particularly for retail shops operating in small workspaces.
The shops and branches guidelines make clear the HSE will seek to take enforcement action against operators who do not have robust risk assessments in place.
Once the risk assessment has been prepared and agreed, the guidelines stipulate that employers must share the results of the risk assessment with the workforce and encourages employers to publish the results on the company's website. This becomes an expectation if the business employs more than 50 workers.
2. Working from home and knowing your workforce
Government guidance remains that staff should work from home, where they can.
It is anticipated that some retail/branch staff will be able to work from home and shops/branches should make every reasonable effort to adopt working from home practices for all staff that can practically do so (for further advice on safeguarding the health and safety of remote workers, please see our previous guidance).
When working from home is not possible, every effort should be made to comply with social distancing guidelines (see below).
Employers should identify clinically vulnerable individuals (CVIs) and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (CEVIs).
CEVIs have been advised not to work outside the home and employers should abide by this.
CVIs are at higher risk of severe illness and if they cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on site-roles, enabling them to stay two metres away from others.
If they have to spend time within two metres of others, careful assessment is needed as to whether this involves an acceptable level of risk, although it is unclear what this means in practice and in reality will be a subjective assessment.
3. Social distancing
For shops/branches, some individuals will be required to undertake work on-site. The default position is that any on-site work activity must be undertaken at a social distance, i.e., two metres away from other people.
Where social distancing cannot be followed in full for a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and if so, take all mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff.
Mitigating factors may include:
- Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible;
- Staggering arrival, departure and break times to reduce crowding into, out or around common areas;
- Limiting the number of customers in a store at any one time;
- Identifying how many customers could follow two-metre social distancing by assessing the dimensions of the shop/branch floor;
- Encouraging customers to shop alone where possible;
- Reducing congestion by having more entry points in larger stores;
- Introducing one-way flow through buildings and providing supporting floor markings and signage;
- Using screens or barriers to separate people;
- Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible;
- Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using fixed teams or partnering to prevent transmission among large groups;
- Providing guidance and signage on social distancing.
Before shops/branches reopen, the employer should ensure these sites are clean and ready to restart.
This should be incorporated into shop/branches' risk assessments. Shops/branches should be assessing whether the workplace is sufficiently ventilated and if they have concerns, they will need to think about improving ventilation and airflow into the workplace.
All areas of the shop/branch should be regularly cleaned using usual cleaning products. Particular focus should be paid to regularly touched surfaces, such as self-checkouts, trolleys, baskets or ATM machines.
Increased handwashing and hand sanitisation facilities should be made available to staff/customers as well as signage about increased hygiene.
Once a business has undertaken all of these measures, they can download and display a notice to say that they have complied with the government's guidance.
It is not yet known whether the HSE will use these notices as a precursor for investigations/inquiries into health and safety standards in workplaces, but attention may initially be focused on businesses that do not display this notice.
The shops and branches guidelines are to be welcomed and should be considered by shop/branch operators that are already open and those that are due to open in the near future.
The government has indicated that non-essential retail in England will be able to open from 1 June 2020 if appropriate safety measures are implemented.
All retailers and branch operators should therefore be considering and implementing these recommendations as soon as possible.
For some shops/branches, particularly small or medium sized businesses, the guidance may appear daunting and potentially expensive and time intensive. However, with HSE enforcement likely to be focused on Covid-19 related failures, it would be prudent to err on the side of caution when assessing risk and implementing appropriate control measures.
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