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THIIS has comprehensively examined and highlighted the key aspects of the new guidance issued to shops, stores and branches in England to help mobility retailers ensure they can reopen and retail as safely as possible during the coronavirus pandemic.

Designed to be relevant for those who run shops, branches and stores, the guidance forms part of set of advisory documents published by the government following prime minister Boris Johnson’s nationwide address on the 10th May.

It comes as the government outlines its strategy for gradually easing lockdown restrictions across England with non-food related shops hoping to be given the go-ahead to reopen at the start of June.

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The advice outlines the various steps that retailers that are temporarily closed or currently trading should take to try and maximise safety in retail settings and details an almost completely new way of working for many in the sector.

COVID-19 risk assessment

The guidance states that each business needs to carry out an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment, just as it would for other health and safety related hazards and that this assessment must be done in consultation with workers.

Highlighting that employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risks to their health and safety, the advice points out that businesses need to consider the risks posed by COVID-19 and take action to mitigate these.

For mobility retailers that employ five or more employees, this assessment needs to be written down.

Advising employers and employees to work together to identify and agree on how to reduce risks, the guidance also notes that a local authority or the Health and Safety Executive can take action if a company is failing to comply with the relevant public health legislation and guidance, including issuing enforcement notices.

To help minimise the risk of coronavirus, the guidance identifies several key steps businesses can address in their safety assessment.

Steps retailers can take to identify and address risks for their risk assessment:

  1. Increase handwashing frequency and surface cleaning
  2. Encourage staff to work from home or, where this is not possible, to maintain two-metre social distance guidelines in a shop
  3. Consider whether particular activities that cannot be carried out from home or within social distancing guidelines need to continue for the company to operate and, if so, take all actions possible to reduce the risk further
  4. Actions that can be implemented to further mitigate risk for those particular activities in step three, including limiting the time of the activity to be as short as possible, using screens or barriers, as well as the idea of using ‘fixed teams’ to carry out certain work
  5. Determine if particular activities that require people to work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners can take place safely as no employee “is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment”
  6. Importantly for any mobility retailers that employ individuals that may have a disability, the risk assessment should have particular regarding employees especially vulnerable to COVID-19

After the risk assessment has been completed, employers should share the results of the risk assessment with their employees and also consider publishing it their website – the government says that all businesses with over 50 employees to publish their assessment online.

Mobility companies can download and print this notice to show they have followed the COVID-19 safety guidance.

Employees in shops

Continuing to emphasise that any workers that can work from home should continue to do so, the new safety guidance details the steps that employers should consider regarding employees’ safety.

Steps retailers can take to protect employees:

  • Determine who is essential to be on the premises and who, such as back of house workers, can work from home
  • Plan for the minimum number of staff to operate safely and effectively
  • Monitor the wellbeing of those working from home and help ensure they remain connected to the rest of the workforce to avoid feelings of loneliness and exclusion
  • Keep in touch regularly with off-site employees on their working arrangements including welfare, mental and physical health and personal security
  • Provide the equipment necessary for people to work safely and effectively from home, such as remote access to work systems

Employees that have specific underlying health conditions that make them extremely vulnerable to severe illness if they contract COVID-19 are strongly advised not to work outside the home by the government.

For those that are deemed as “clinically vulnerable” but not “extremely vulnerable” – i.e. those that received a letter informing them to shield – the guidance highlights that these workers should take extra care in observing social distancing and be helped to work from home or offered the option to take the safest roles on site.

Social distancing in shops

The guidance stresses the need to maintain social distancing at work in all areas of the business, including entrances and exits, break rooms, canteens and similar settings where it is often the most challenging areas to maintain social distancing.

It also outlines measures that retailers can introduce to increase the adoption of social distancing in shops by staff:

Steps retailers can take to maximise social distancing when arriving and leaving a store:

  • Stagger employee arrival and departure times to limit contact and crowding
  • Provide additional parking or facilities to help individuals run, walk and cycle to work
  • Reduce congestion by making more entry points available into and out of stores
  • Use a one-way system with floor marking for entrance and exit points, as well as throughout the building
  • Provide hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser at entrance and exit points
  • Limit access to certain areas to certain employees to reduce movement
  • Limit lift occupancy but ensure it is available when needed for those with disabilities, as well as providing hand sanitiser for lift operation
  • Regulating use of high traffic areas in a building to allow for social distancing to take place

The guidance also has specific guidance regarding workstations, such as tills, where individuals may work in close proximity to one another.

It suggests that workstations should be assigned to a single individual wherever possible and if they need to be shared, they should be shared by the small possible number of people.

In addition, where it is not possible to keep workstations two metres apart, the business should consider how this can be mitigated, such as closing one till and operating at reduced capacity in order to reduce the risk of transmission.

Steps retailers can take to ensure employees can maintain a safe distance in store:

  • Review layouts to allow workers to work further apart
  • Use floor tapes and mark areas to help people keep to a two-metre distance
  • Avoid face-to-face scenarios, including reviewing payments in stores and potentially look at screens to create physical barriers
  • Use a consistent pairing system if people do have to work together in close proximity
  • Minimise contacts around transactions and encourage contactless payments
  • Rethink demonstrations and assessments of products to minimise direct contact – a key challenge in the mobility sector where products need to be matched with the needs of the customer

The new government guidance also addresses how common areas can be made safer during the pandemic, including encouraging staff to stagger their breaks and potentially take breaks outside but on-site where they will limit exposure to others.

Also, screens to protect staff in reception areas and introducing controls in areas such as staff rooms, toilets and employee lockers to avoid queues.

Managing customer interactions

Arguably the most important and difficult to manage, particularly in the mobility sector where assistance and assessments can require close proximity to customers, the guidance reinforces that contact between customers and staff should be limited wherever possible.

To achieve this, the government recommends several steps to control interactions with staff.

Steps retailers can take to manage contact with customers:

  • Define and limit the number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing in store, taking into account floor space, “pinch points” and busy areas
  • Suspend or reduce customer services that cannot be undertaken without contravening social distancing guidelines – again, another challenge for mobility retailers
  • Encourage customers to shop alone where possible, unless they need specific assistance
  • Look at how people walk through the shop and how this can be adjusted to reduce congestion and contact between customers, for example, queue management or one-way flow
  • Ensure any changes to entries, exits and queue management have reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of customers, including disabled shoppers
  • Use outside premises for queuing where available and safe, for example some car parks.
  • Work with a local authority or landlord to take into account the impact of your processes on public spaces such as high streets and public car parks
  • Have clearly designated positions from which colleagues can provide advice or assistance to customers whilst maintaining social distance

The government guidance also emphasises that retailers should use signage and visual aids to communicate the new social distancing measures to customers and employees prior to entering and during their shopping visit.

In addition, it recommends appointing a ‘social distancing champion’ to explain and demonstrate social distancing guidelines to customers.

Limiting the handling of products and cash

To reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission, the government’s guidance focuses on limiting the handling of merchandise by customers and cash.

Alongside the emphasis to increase handwashing and hand sanitisation, as well as introducing contactless payments and refunds, the guidance outlines further steps retailers can consider implementing.

Steps retailers can take to reduce handling of products and cash:

  • Limit customer handling of merchandise through different display methods, new signage or rotation of high-touch stock
  • Put in place picking-up and dropping-off collection points where possible, rather than passing goods hand-to-hand
  • Enforce staggered collection times for customers collecting items, with a queuing system in place to ensure a safe distance of two metres
  • Set up ‘no contact’ return procedures where customers take return goods to a designated area and encourage contactless refunds
  • Keep returns separate from displayed merchandise to reduce the likelihood of transmission through touch
  • Provide guidance to how workers can safely assist customers with handling large-item purchases

Updated advice released on the 25th May:

  • Store items that have been returned, donated, brought in for repair or extensively handled, in a container or separate room for 72 hours, or cleaning such items with usual cleaning products, before displaying them on the shop floor. Materials used for cleaning can be disposed of normally.
  • Consider placing protective coverings on large items that may require customer testing or use, for example, furniture, beds or seats. Ensure frequent cleaning of these coverings between uses, using usual cleaning products
  • Clean touchpoints after each customer use or handover, particularly in cases where equipment has been rented and products such as mobility scooters have test-driven

Personal Protective Equipment and face coverings

PPE guidance

Having dominated the news over recent weeks, PPE may well be essential for mobility retailers that need to offer assessments, including hoisting and measuring for products.

According to government guidance, retailers that are already using PPE in “work activity to protect against non-COVID-19 risks” should continue to do so.

The advice goes on to state that “when managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial. This is because COVID-19 is a different type of risk to the risks you 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.”

For mobility retailers that intend to instruct staff to wear PPE, the guidance says that “unless you are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is extremely limited. However, if your risk assessment does show that PPE is required, then you must provide this PPE free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly.”

Face coverings guidance

Regarding face coverings, the government recently shifted its policy and now says their use in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible can be beneficial, however, stresses that they are not a replace for increasing hygiene levels and strict social distancing.

Importantly, face coverings are not required by law but employers should support employees that wish to wear one whilst working by informing them of the following advice:

  • wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on and after removing it
  • when wearing a face covering, avoid touching the face or face covering, as it could contaminate them with germs from the hands
  • change the face covering if it becomes damp or if the user has touched it
  • continue to wash hands regularly
  • change and wash the face covering daily
  • if the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in the usual waste
  • practise social distancing wherever possible

Communicating the new normal to employees

As well as ensuring customers are aware of the new rules, it is essential that retailers ensure staff are informed and aware of the new ways of working by providing clear, consistent and regular communication.

The guidance also notes that companies should look to develop communication and training materials for workers prior to returning to a shop, especially around new procedures for arrival at work.

This guidance is not exhaustive and the government emphasises that retailers must consider their unique individual circumstances and risks when considering how to apply this to their business.

THIIS wants to know what changes and measures you are introducing to ensure employee and customer safety during the pandemic or whether you believe the guidance goes far enough in protecting retailers. Get in touch with editor Calvin Barnett at to share your thoughts.

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