The government has produced guidance to help ensure safety during the pandemic. The guidance cover a range of workplaces including the retail industry. They do not replace existing health and safety duties, but they should be considered by employers when assessing risk and implementing control measures. As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety.

Update - The Government guidance was updated on 24 June 2020 to reflect a relaxation of the 2m social distancing guidance in England to 1m plus risk mitigation where 2m is not viable, and to include references to support bubbles where relevant. The updated guidance also stresses the requirement for employers to complete a risk assessment which takes account of COVID-19.

Thinking About and Managing Risk

Employers must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment (which should be shared with employees after consultation) and take preventative measures. That means working through steps in the guide in order i.e. increasing hand washing/surface cleaning, making every reasonable effort to work from home where possible and where not possible comply with social distancing (where that is not possible and the activity needs to continue, further actions are listed). Further mitigations include increasing cleaning, reducing activity time, using screens, using fixed teams and avoiding face to face working. If people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then employers will need to assess whether the activity can safely proceed. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe environment. 

The recommendations in the rest of the guide are ones employers should consider as they go through this process. They can also consider any sector specific advice e.g. from trade associations. 

Who should go to work

Everyone should work from home, unless they cannot work from home. Employers should consider who needs to go to work as well as how to protect those at higher risk. The guide sets out steps to consider including planning for minimum numbers and the monitoring of staff and protecting those at higher risk. 

Social distancing at work

The guide sets out detailed actions to maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible, including while arriving at and departing from work, while in work, and when travelling for work as well as how to reduce risk when the guidelines cannot be followed in full including reducing activity time, using screens, the use of fixed teams and avoiding face to face working. It includes providing additional facilities to allow for social distancing including additional parking or bike-racks. For retail shops and shopping centres, it is important to reduce congestion, for example, by having more entry points and one-way flows through shops with a maximum occupancy.

Managing your customers, visitors and contractors

The guide aims to minimise the contact resulting from visits to stores or outlets and sets out steps to achieve this e.g. limiting numbers of customers, suspending or reducing contact based services such as personal shopping, using outside queuing and providing clear guidance on social distancing and hygiene to people on arrival, for example, signage and visual aids. Shopping centres should take lead responsibility for regulating the numbers and the queuing process in communal areas on behalf of their retail tenants.

Cleaning and sanitising the workplace

The guide considers how to ensure that any store or location that has been closed is clean and ready to restart; how to keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission by touching contaminated surfaces; how to help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day; how to minimise the risk of transmission in customer fitting rooms and how to reduce transmission through contact with objects in the store through limiting handling of merchandise, collection points and no contact return procedures.  

Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings

COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks staff normally face in a workplace, and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE. Workplaces should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 in most circumstances. Wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one.

Managing your workforce

The guide advises on how to change the way work is organised to create distinct groups and reduce the number of contacts each worker has including the use of shift patterns, working groups and identifying contact areas and finding ways to remove direct contact such as by using drop-off points or transfer zones. It deals with communications and training including when returning to work and ongoing communications and signage to make sure all are kept up to date with safety measures. It highlights the importance of continuous staff and union engagement. 

Inbound and outbound goods

The guide considers how to maintain social distancing and avoid surface transmission when goods enter and leave stores especially in high volume situations, for example distribution centres or dispatch areas.

Where HSE identifies employers who are not complying with guidance to control public health risks, they will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks including enforcement.

Key Contacts

Erin Shoesmith

Erin Shoesmith

Partner, Health & Safety
United Kingdom

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Adrian Mansbridge

Adrian Mansbridge

Legal Director, Global Investigations
Leeds, UK

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