Retail: Have you Taken a Risk Assessment?

The retail sector is a major UK employer, with around three million people working in various roles. As with any industry, the safety of employees and visitors is paramount. In order to maximise health and safety, retail businesses are required by law to take a risk assessment of their premises.

Wet floor sign

© kasarp studio /


What is a risk assessment?

Designed to highlight which hazards are likely to harm employees/visitors and do something about them; a workplace risk assessment is a process that identifies any dangers that currently exist or may crop up in the future.

The risks in every aspect of the working environment must be considered including fire safety; electrical safety; hazardous substances; manual loads handling; the risk of repetitive strain injuries; stress factors; dealing with the public; slipping and tripping hazards; lone working and any working practices.


Who needs to conduct the risk assessment?

Every employer must conduct a risk assessment by law. Even the smallest business must comply. If the company has more than five employees, the results must be recorded with details of the groups of employees most at risk from specific hazards – such as older, disabled or pregnant employees, for example.

Carrying out a risk assessment means adhering to a basic procedure. First, look for and list the risks; then, decide who might be harmed and how; evaluate the risk arising from each potential hazard, determine whether the existing precautions are sufficient and record the findings. Put new provisions in place if the existing ones are unsatisfactory.

The assessment should be reviewed periodically, revising it when necessary, particularly if there are any significant changes, such as a refurbishment of the building.


What are the common hazards within retail?

The retail industry makes many physical demands on employees. Typically, retail jobs involve repetitive motions, such as reaching for items or operating the till; heavy lifting of stock and standing for long periods.

Lifting and moving heavy products can cause musculoskeletal disorders, especially if the correct lifting procedures aren’t in place. Slips and trips are another common cause of injury in the retail sector, both to employees and customers. The main causes include slippery surfaces, spillages and cluttered aisles, especially when floors are not cleaned up quickly enough, or items such as packaging or pallets are left in walkways.

All work equipment must be regularly maintained to minimise the risks. Any equipment used to lift items must be inspected regularly and properly maintained, while racking must comply with the safe working load, width and height directions, as specified by the manufacturer. Any electrical wiring and equipment should be maintained and inspected regularly to avoid shock injuries from damaged wiring or faulty equipment.

Dealing with shoplifters, angry customers, troublemakers or drunk customers can also put retail staff at risk of violence, especially lone workers. Shop floor staff should not be subject to verbal attacks, intimidation and harassment, so measures should be put in place to minimise the risks.

In addition, the indoor air quality must not put employees at risk. Most retail premises are in a closed building, where the windows can’t be opened easily. Indoor air pollution can be a hazard, as it can cause a build-up of vapours, moulds, particles, bacteria and fungus. These pollutants can cause respiratory problems, so all workplaces where risks are identified must provide adequate ventilation.


How many accidents happen within retail?

Common health and safety hazards can unfortunately cause accidents in the retail sector. An average 2,420 per 100,000 employees (2.4%) have a work-related illness, while 2,080 per 100,000 employees (2.1%) suffer injury in the workplace. These are just the incidents that are reported.

Analysts believe around 50% of workplace injuries and illnesses go unreported. Employees who work part-time, or work for an hourly wage, with zero-hour contracts, are less likely to report an injury. This is due to a fear of losing their job if they create a fuss. As half of the retail sector’s employees work part-time, this means many of them could have suffered unreported illnesses or injuries in the workplace.


How serious could it be if someone created a claim?

If a member of staff, a visitor or a customer makes a compensation claim for an injury or illness caused by being in retail premises, this can have serious repercussions.

In 2017, high street retailer Wilko was fined £2.2 million for safety failings, including not assessing the risks of using lift cages. A cage of paint tins was unevenly loaded when it toppled onto a female worker as she pulled it out of a lift.

The accident occurred at the retailer’s Leicester store, in Beaumont Shopping Centre, in 2013. The 20-year-old female employee, a student who was working part-time, suffered severe spinal injuries, leaving her in a wheelchair.

The trial heard 87.5 litres of paint were stacked on the top level, 87 litres on the middle level and only 55 litres on the lower level, making the cage more likely to topple over. The judge said Wilko’s failings were significant, especially its failure to assess the risk of moving heavy and unevenly loaded cages.

Health and Safety inspectors found the retailer had no risk assessment in place for the use of cages or the lift. Combined with inadequate training and supervision, it was described at the hearing as a “high culpability case”.

The company admitted four offences and accepted it failed to ensure the employees’ health and safety, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.


Ensuring a safer retail environment

When you’re planning improvements, Commercial Aluminium Shopfronts is a reputable market leader, with sound health and safety credentials and expert knowledge of building regulations, including the Disability Discrimination Act. We offer unequivocal expertise when carrying out work on your retail premises.

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