What to look out for in a retail sector COVID-19 risk assessment - COVID-Secure Check

This is a new service from the TUC — your feedback will help us to improve it.

Reports & analysis

What to look out for in a retail sector COVID-19 risk assessment

October 2020


Retailers have been open again since June 15 and all retail employers with more than 5 employees should have carried out a full Covid 19 Risk Assessment. In addition the government expect all businesses with more than 50 staff to publish the results of these on their website. However, to date, very few are actually publicly available. We have been collecting those that are here. In this blog post, we cover what to look for in a detailed and decent risk assessment in the retail sector, which includes distribution centres and shops.

Risk assessments are working documents that should be produced in clear English in consultation with a trade union rep or another workers’ representative. They should be regularly reviewed as risks change and all staff should be briefed on their contents. They should also contain a clear accountability process, with a named person who is responsible for ensuring that measures are complied with. There should also be a procedure for reporting issues.

A whole industry exists to supply generic risk assessments templates for business, but choosing an ‘off-the shelf’ approach is not necessarily the best way to ensure the process takes into account the specifics of the particular site.

So what does a best practice retail sector risk assessment look like?

It should have separate plans in place to manage all the different groups of people in the workplace during the pandemic. This means:

  • Addressing everyone who is at risk including employees working in stores, distribution centres, offices and at home as well as people who are not employees such as shoppers, suppliers and contractors;

  • Identifying workers who are especially vulnerable to Covid-19 to ensure that the appropriate adjustments/control measures are in place to protect those individuals, particularly those who fall within the 'clinically vulnerable' and 'clinically extremely vulnerable' criteria.

  • Managing reported cases, or reported symptoms, of Covid-19 including collaborating with the ‘test and trace’ system.

  • Planning for the impact of staff absences including ensuring that sufficient and suitable cover is available, for example, for first aid, general training and supervision, and to prevent fatigue and work-related stress.

Further the risk assessment should contain measures for controlling the spread of the virus.

Typical physical distancing and hygiene measures in retail

  • Outside the premises: having a separate entry and exit if possible, limiting number of customers entering at once, using barriers, signage and decals, having scheduled delivery times, contracting additional security if required.

  • Inside: Hygiene: hand sanitiser at front of store, wipes, regular cleaning of touch points, and more frequent cleaning of entire workplace.

  • Shop floor and till areas: – install signage, revise layout to improve distancing, use one-way systems, barriers at tills, keep non-essential doors open, regular cleaning of self-check outs.

  • Changing rooms should remain shut and customer seating removed.

  • Additional measures such as more sanitiser are needed for areas where products are touched and tested e.g. electric items and for close face-to-face services such as beauty treatments.

  • Staff should be informed and protected: do they know what to do if customers are not complying with the rules?

In Distribution Centres:

  • Shifts should be monitored so that ‘test and trace’ can be informed if necessary.

  • Touch points should be regularly cleaned, and non-fire doors left open.

  • Where 2m physical distancing cannot be maintained: provisions should be made for more cleaning / handwashing, side-to-side or back-to-back working, additional barriers, ‘partner-working’ where staff stay close only to same colleague(s), face coverings, open windows where possible, reduced numbers in shuttle buses.

  • Non-contact deliveries should be adopted where possible, site visits kept to a minimum, and vehicles kept clean.

Additionally the best Covid risk assessments should take account of any specific risks to BAME workers who have been shown to be a vulnerable group. They should also acknowledge the impact of any changes made on existing risk assessments and control measures. For example, distancing measures may impact the safety of certain tasks and new risks may be created such as the introduction of greater volumes of hazardous chemicals like cleaning products. Finally, they could also assess risks that are not ‘on-site’ such as travel to and from work.

The Good and the Not so Good

The employer risk assessments we’ve looked at range substantially in quality, and below are examples from both ends of the spectrum.

W H Smith: the Good

W H Smith is a major retailer which has published a detailed global risk assessment on its website. This, the company says, is accompanied by documents covering risk at local store level.

What it does

  • The document makes it clear that assessing risk is an ongoing process, and insists the guidance will be reviewed regularly.

  • It is written in clear English and includes pictures and diagrams that make it easy to understand.

  • It is comprehensive and considers all groups affected including staff, vulnerable groups, customers, visitors and contractors.

  • The measures to maintain 2m physical distancing and enhanced hygiene are extensive, detailed and specific to different areas of the workplace.

  • Provision of PPE – appears to be voluntary, with best advice physical distancing. Colleagues can wear masks and protective visors at their discretion.

  • It is participatory: employees working in trading stores have been asked for feedback when control measures have been introduced and this has been incorporated into the policy.

  • It contains responsibility and accountability measures: The Store Duty Manager is responsible Offers training on the control measures.

  • “WH Smith will offer support to colleagues who are directly or indirectly affected by Coronavirus or has a member of their household so affected.”

What it does not do

Despite its detailed provisions, W H Smith could improve the document by including:

  • an assessment of whether any new risks are created by the control measures

  • mention of ‘off-site risks such as how staff travel to and from work

  • the procedure if a staff member is taken ill.

Frasers Group (owner of Sports Direct): the Not so Good

Frasers Group, owner of Sports Direct, Debenhams and other outlets has published a glossy brochure covering its Covid 19 control measures, although this is in list form rather than the traditional grid format of a risk assessment. It says the document has been prepared with the help of an independent Health & Safety consultant and covers ‘social distancing measures’ and ‘additional measures’

What it does

  • Offers a general list of social distancing measures for Group Distribution workplaces and stores and how these will be communicated.

  • The measures include revised schedules, temperature checks, plexiglass screens etc, reduced capacity in shared toilet facilities, reduced capacity in canteens, smoking areas, staggered breaks and start/ finish times, one way travel, working from home where possible.

  • The communication includes training, monitoring, use of the public address system

  • Additional measures include PPE, extra cleaning and sanitisation products, reviewing established processes such as first aid, cleaning, induction and recruitment, shielding for high risk health conditions and no contact searches.

  • In the store section, the list of measures include a checklist of managers, emphasis on deliveries, staggered breaks and start times, revised schedules and a package of social distancing and hygiene measures relevant to the store layout. It also says the stores will have area manager and health & safety team spot checks.

What it does not do

The list format used by Frasers Group means that as a risk assessment document it falls short in a number of areas. For example, it does not:

  • state which groups of people are ‘at risk’, and beyond a mention of shielding does not address the specific concerns of vulnerable groups.

  • state whether staff and other stakeholders have been consulted on the measures and their feedback taken into account.

  • offer any details of what the distancing and hygiene measures will look like.

  • give any indication of who will be responsible on site for the control measures, beyond mention of ‘spotchecks’

  • state what procedures to follow if someone is taken ill.

  • mention what the travel and parking guidelines in place are.

  • Take into account any secondary risks.

Has there been an adequate risk assessment in your workplace? Is it published? Please take a moment to tell us about it here and we’ll add it to our records.