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July 22, 2019

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Risk reduction in retail

Risk reduction strategies retailers should buy into

As one of the industries still most susceptible to workplace accidents and injuries, Julie-Anna Smith, Head of Consulting Services at safety and certification expert, Bureau Veritas, advises on why a diligent, robust risk management strategy is something retailers need to invest in.

shopping mallThe good news is that, according to figures from the HSE, improvements in adequate health and safety systems and accident reduction strategies have helped to negate any significant rise in workplace illness and accidents in the UK in recent years. This has been further coerced by the 2016 introduction of the Sentencing Guidelines which has effectively seen organisations place much a greater focus on health and safety.

That said, however, there is still much work to be done. After all, we must remember that 1.4 million people suffered from a work-related illness during the 2017/2018 period – of which, 144 workers were tragically killed on the job. In addition to the huge cost to human life, 30.7 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury during this period, significantly impacting the productivity and profitability of UK businesses, according to the HSE.

Clearly, many businesses still have a big job to do in improving their risk management credentials – and, as one of the biggest employers in the UK which operates a primarily young, inexperienced workforce, retail is one industry which continues comes into question.

Potential hazards

Just a quick snapshot of the incredibly vast and varied retail sector reveals a multitude of potential hazards; the frequent use of machinery, say a bread slicer in a bakery or using pallet jacks in the warehouse; exposure to chemicals, for example using cleaning equipment or spills from chemicals used in production; occupational violence, be it abusive customers or dealing with robbers; and much more.

Tellingly, slips, trips and falls have accounted for 31% of all injuries over the past two years, followed closely by lifting and handling at 21%.  Such dangers are particularly common in retail given the nature of the industry where workers are often tasked with handling heavy objects, for example carrying boxes of goods, and at risk of slipping or tripping, say on a wet surface, such as a newly cleaned floor, or falling from a ladder when trying to reach goods.

Add to the equation a high percentage of inexperienced, ill-trained young workers who are often tasked with repetitive tasks, sometimes working alone and at night, and the chance of an injury becomes even more pertinent. Testament to this, retail workers experienced a combined injury and illness rate higher than the construction industry in 2016.

And so it’s never been more important for retailers to address their health and safety strategies – but with so much to consider when to begin?

‘Reasonably foreseeable’ risks

ShoppingUnder the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, retailers are responsible for taking all practicable precautions against ‘reasonably foreseeable’ risks in order to prevent injury and ill-health. As well as duties towards employees, a retailer must also ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. This includes customers, volunteers, contractors and business partners.

To begin with retailers must ensure they have adequate policies and procedures in place, then take a ‘plan, do, check, act and react’ strategy by working with a safety and compliance partner to continue to identify risk and improve safety across their operations. It would also be beneficial for retailers to achieve certification to ISO 45001, due to come into force in March 2021.

Not to be underestimated, this should be supported with regular, effective communication which builds a positive safety culture within the business. In this way, health and safety should take a ‘meet in the middle approach’: top down, safety has to be a senior priority and an agenda item at board level meetings and, in return, bottom up is how retailers drive their safety culture – providing employees with the support to ensure their wellbeing.

In this emerging age of ethical commerce where consumers are increasingly gravitating towards businesses that ‘do the right thing’, it is only going to become more important for retailers to elevate their safety standards. With benefits that include negated risk, improved employee welfare and a more attractive CSR profile – surely then more diligent risk management is something retailers should be buying into?

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