The retail sector in the UK is worth over £350 billion and employs more than three million people, making it the country’s largest private sector.
With so many people employed in retail, you may be surprised to learn that the government has deemed the retail workplace ‘low risk’. This classification is primarily because of the lack of heavy machinery involved in conducting retail business. Yet many of the most commonly reported incidents occur in retail settings in huge numbers. Health and safety in retail industry, as such, may be underprioritized. Fewer heavy or hard-to-handle machines does not necessarily correlate to a lower level of risk for employees. Health and safety in retail stores across the country must be prioritized, but in order to do that the situation must be fully understood.
Top Retail Risks
Given that incidents do occur regularly in retail, the HSE has compiled a comprehensive list of the most common non-fatal incidents to occur within the workplace. While some may surprise you, others certainly should be accounted for in health and safety management.
Slips, trips, and falls
Of all retail incidents reported in 2016 and 2017, the majority were related to a slip, trip, or fall. Often, when the word ‘incident’ comes to mind, we think of objects falling down or the malfunction of machinery. In other words, we do not think to tie these events back to common mistakes. However, human error and simple mistakes still occur – regardless of the setting, profession, industry, or level of training. Slips, trips and falls must be acknowledged as potential risks and accounted for when creating floor layouts. Keeping all floors clean and keeping employees aware of the danger of these simple mistakes is also key. Sometimes awareness can be the most impactful factor.
Forklift trucks are responsible for around 25% of all retail transport. While not all employees may be operating forklift trucks or other workplace vehicles, they may be present in retail stores connected to or in proximity to warehouses or storage facilities. Proper safety protocol surrounding their use and their presence should be followed by every employee and built in as part of their training. Any employee operating these vehicles, too, should be properly and thoroughly trained on how to use them in the presence of others.
32% of all days lost in 2016 and 2017 were due to injuries from handling, carrying, or lifting. With regular deliveries into stores, manual handling is an inevitable part of retail. But training is key to avoid incidents. Workers should be provided with means for transporting larger loads, such as trolleys or carts. They should also have an established path for transporting the inventory delivered, as to ensure they’re not having to go up and down excessive amounts of stairs or through high-traffic areas. In this sense, sensible workplace management plays a role in health and safety management. Thinking through every aspect of an employee’s day – even down to bringing in new inventory – can decrease the risk they face.
If a customer experiences product or service dissatisfaction, retail staff are the first to know about it. While your employees are likely trained to handle complaints with composure and empathy, the same cannot be said for every customer to enter your establishment. A customer’s frustration can at times lead to intimidating and threatening behaviour. Occasionally, the customer can even go so far as to incite physical violence.
The threat of violence against retail staff is high, with an average of 115 retail employees attacked at work ever day as of 2019 statistics. The same report also detailed that use of knives is becoming an increasing concern. Sufficient measures need to be taken to reduce this, which can start with properly training your staff. However, staff training alone cannot eradicate the threat of violence. Employees should be knowledgeable about the steps they need to take after a violent encounter to properly report the incident and seek the support they may need from their employer.
With such a high frequency of incidents occurring in retail settings, managers need to make sure they have highly optimized modes of communication with employees. They should also invest in resources for employees to learn more about how to prioritize health and safety and give them ways to report and detail incidents that do occur. EHS software can be employed to help mitigate risks. Here are some of the top ways EHS software can help retail workers stay safer.
Cloud Technology Improving Communications
Whilst the number of retail sites varies from business to business, the problem remains the same – communication of important information can be inconsistent and lost in translation.
Should incidents occur, Health and Safety Managers need to be aware as soon as possible, so they can take steps to make sure similar incidents. They should be focused on ensuring repeat incidents do not occur at their own site and at others; it should only take one occurrence for the organization to act.
With cloud-based health and safety software, this is possible. Incidents or hazards can be reported into the system and be instantly viewed by all. From here, actions can be made and tracked to ensure that the issue is dealt with in the best possible way. Employees will know exactly how to proceed, and managers can oversee the process from elsewhere if necessary.
Additionally, the use of a cloud-based system means that all your sites can gain knowledge from the experience of one incident and adequately learn from it. Alerts can be sent out notifying employees across your organization of the incident, and the potential for that incident to happen again can be tracked and monitored.
Promote Safety Culture
Health and safety software should make reporting retail incidents much easier, creating a heightened safety culture amongst staff. When employees have an easy way to report, and an effective way to learn, there are fewer barriers in between them and the safest operations possible.
Since the goal is to reduce barriers to participation, it is essential that any EHS system be accessible on a range of devices and have an incredible user experience to subsequently increase reporting. Native mobile EHS apps are vital for retail businesses looking to improve their safety culture. On the floor of retail stores, your employees likely will not have access to a laptop. To ensure they report incidents and have all the information they need to stay safe and keep the workplace safe, a mobile option should be one of your priorities.
Additionally, dashboards and data should be easy to interpret. Your employees want to stay safe, but they do not want to look at confusing representations of information. In fact, if your data is hard to interpret your employees may ignore it altogether and unknowingly continue practicing improper safety behaviours. Clear dashboards and appealing visual representation of data will allow your employees to learn from the past and motivate them to take corrective actions for the future.
Consistency across the board…
Even though most of the hazards that occur in a retail setting are low risk, they can be frequent. Retailers must, therefore, take all hazards seriously and should complete regular audits and risk assessments. It can be difficult to interpret these reports or use them across various sites if they are not consistent, though.
EHS software allows for consistency in these reports across various locations. Whilst the likelihood of certain incidents may vary from store to store, the practices for managing and recording them should be as similar as possible. This can be ensured through EHS software for the likes of incident management, auditing and risk assessments. Certain EHS software systems have built in templates for filling out audits or risk assessments, so managers know exactly what information they need to collect and exactly where to put it. This will facilitate the sharing of information across locations, expedite the process of training new managers, and streamline your management of workplace safety.
Modern EHS software allows managers to carry out end-to-end investigation processes effectively. With EHS software you can do this quickly thanks to various features such as root cause analysis tools and evidence attachments enabled. This gives the investigator a much more in-depth understanding of what has occurred and how it could’ve been prevented. You can then take action to ensure the incident never takes place again.
Now’s the time...
The single structure of all health and safety reporting on one, unified platform allows for a clearer overview of your organization’s health and safety performance. With ease of reporting comes higher levels of reporting, so the quality of information fed back to managers will improve and become more useful.
From here, retailers can gain a better understanding of where their strengths lie, but also where they could improve across the board to benefit health and safety within the workplace.
With fines for health and safety breaches on the rise, and the customer experience at the forefront of retailers’ minds, there has never been a better time for retailers to invest in EHS software - providing consistency, reliability and compliance.