HEALTH & SAFETY | The Challenge for Retail Owners


HEALTH & SAFETY | The Challenge for Retail Owners

Owners and managers of small and medium retail companies have to juggle multiple functions and responsibilities, and often overlook Health & Safety regulations.

But workplace Health & Safety should be a top priority.

After all, safeguarding people from risk of injury is a legal duty – as a retailer, you have to protect everyone in your premises from harm by ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ removing or controlling the Health & Safety risks present.

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per 100,000 workers suffer a work-related illness

Illness and Injury

Health & Safety hazards associated with the wholesale and retail industry are sometimes thought to be low risk. However, incidents remain common.

Despite perceptions that the retail trade is relatively free of injuries and illnesses, research shows it has a significantly high rate of both – figures show:

  • on average 2,420 per 100,000 workers (2.4%) suffer a work-related illness
  • on average 2,080 per 100,000 workers (2.1%) suffer a workplace injury

Of course, these are just the reported incidents. Experts believe unreported illnesses and injuries account for half of the true figures. Indeed, people who work in a part-time, hourly wage situation may be less likely to report an injury out of fear of losing their jobs – and half of retail’s 2.77 million employees work part time!

Health & Safety is business-critical. Failings can result in firms closing given the much bigger fines being handed out for breaking Health & Safety law. High profile retail cases include:

Retail is therefore far from low risk. So, awareness and understanding of Health & Safety law is all-important.

What then are some of the common risks in retailing?

Retail jobs typically involve repetitive motions, reaching, heavy lifting, long periods of standing and other tasks that can result in injury. In fact, retail workers face as many hazards as people employed in jobs generally believed to be more dangerous.

Lifting and moving products is a common cause of musculoskeletal disorders among workers, particularly when proper lifting procedures and assists aren’t in place. A Health & Safety company will demonstrate the best practice when it comes to lifting and moving.

The weight of the load, how far and how often it’s to be moved, its stability, shape and size all affect the risks involved. Cramped storage areas, unstable racking, unsafe ladders and poor planning (e.g., putting heavy loads on top shelves) also increases the risk of injury.  

Retail premises normally have many different types of fire hazards, especially if highly flammable materials are being stored.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 does not set out what fire equipment should be installed. It does though require assessment of fire risk and reasonable steps to reduce it. This usually requires installing and maintaining fire alarms and emergency lighting. It may also include sprinklers, smoke venting and dry or wet risers.

Slips and trips are a very common cause of injury both to staff and customers.

Among the main causes are spillages, slippery floors and cluttered aisles, i.e., things not being cleaned or cleared up quickly enough.

Many retail workers use equipment that can cause serious injury – all work equipment should be regularly maintained to minimise the risk.

The Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998 specifically requires equipment is adequately guarded to prevent contact with dangerous moving parts.

Equipment used to lift things must be regularly inspected and maintained under the Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) 1998.

Racking should comply with the manufacturer’s safe working load, height, width and construction directions.

Shock injuries are a danger when retail workers are exposed to damaged wiring or equipment, especially when adequate training has not been given.

Electrics must be maintained under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. British Standard BS 7671 provides a detailed inspection of electrical wiring should be carried out in premises every three years.

Similar issues arise with gas and water. Water distribution and cooling systems may require detailed Legionella management.

Violence against staff from customers is all-too-common in the retail sector.

Violence can occur when staff have to deal with theft, troublemakers, angry customers and drunk or drugged customers. Violence includes attacks, intimidation, verbal abuse and harassment.

A rise in workers working on their own has led to a rise in serious acts of violence. 

Most retail stores are in ‘closed’ buildings where windows cannot be opened easily.

Indoor air pollution caused by vapours, particles, moulds, fungus and bacteria can build up. Polluted outdoor air can also be drawn into buildings via air intakes. If not monitored these pollutions can cause severe respiratory ailments. All workplaces where risks are present need effective ventilation.

Regulatory Environment

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) may prosecute or take enforcement action if it finds your Health & Safety arrangements are inadequate.

How We Can Help

Ellis Whittam make simple sense of the law – something that’s most unusual for a Health & Safety company!

Retailers are legally required to receive Health & Safety advice from a ‘Competent Person’. We can ably provide this Health & Safety help and will closely work with you to keep your business safe.

A Health & Safety consultant with specific retail experience will help to identify the hazards in your workplace and manage the risks.

We help directors and managers understand and keep on top of their multiple Health & Safety duties. Contact us on 0345 2268393 to learn about our fixed fee, unlimited support service.


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