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Coronavirus safety for shops, branches and stores: here are the government guidelines

5-minute read

Sam Bromley

Sam Bromley

5 June 2020

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Non-essential retail reopens in the UK on 15 June. Here are the government’s coronavirus safety guidelines for shops, branches, stores and similar businesses.

What is non-essential retail?

Essential retail has been allowed to stay open during the coronavirus lockdown. These shops include supermarkets, off licences, pharmacies, hardware and cycle stores.

Non-essential retail includes homeware and clothing stores. These types of shops are due to open on 15 June.

The government’s coronavirus safety guidelines are for both essential and non-essential retailers, which means that those currently open and those due to reopen need to follow the guidelines.

What shops need to follow the guidelines?

The government has listed the types of retailers included as ‘shops and branches’:

  • food retailers
  • chemists
  • hardware/homeware stores
  • fashion shops
  • charity shops
  • betting shops and arcades
  • tailors, dress fitters and fashion designers
  • car dealerships
  • auction houses
  • antique stores
  • retail art galleries
  • photography studios
  • gift shops and retail spaces in theatres, museums, libraries, heritage sites and tourism sites
  • mobile phone stores
  • indoor and outdoor markets
  • craft fairs
  • other retailers like these

The guidance also applies to branches, like bank branches, post offices and other money businesses.

Coronavirus risk assessment for shops

All businesses need to make sure they’re completing a risk assessment. The government says that if you have fewer than five employees, you don’t need to write one down.

If you have staff, part of your risk assessment will involve speaking to them and addressing any concerns about safety.

The government lists sensible measures to minimise the risks of coronavirus in your shop. These include:

  • increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning
  • keeping working from home available as the first option
  • considering whether some activities are necessary for the business to operate, if social distancing can’t be followed
  • taking all actions necessary to mitigate risk, like using screens or barriers
  • reducing the number of people each person works with (you could set up fixed teams)

You should share the results of your risk assessment with your employees. Read more about completing a risk assessment.

Should my staff come to work?

The government says nobody should be at work if your shop is shut under the government regulations.

If your shop’s open, anybody who can work from home should. This might include back of house workers. Essentially, it’s about making sure you have the minimum number of people needed onsite to operate effectively.

If you have some employees at work and others at home, it’s important to make sure those at home still feel connected to your business and other employees.

Take all the precautions necessary to protect vulnerable people. Extremely vulnerable people have been strongly advised to stay at home, while vulnerable people need to work at home where possible. If they can’t, then conditions need to be as safe as possible for them onsite.

People who are self-isolating because they have coronavirus symptoms (or someone they live with has coronavirus symptoms) shouldn’t physically go into work – but they could still work from home.

Protecting your customers and other people who visit your shop

The government’s objective is to “minimise the contact resulting from visits to stores or outlets”.

They list a number of things you can do to help:

  • work out the number of customers you can have in your store (and any outside selling areas) that can reasonably follow the two metre social distancing rule
  • limit how many customers you have in your store, especially in congested areas
  • encourage customers to use hand sanitiser when they enter your store
  • ask customers to avoid handling products while browsing
  • rethink services that can’t be offered without breaking social distancing
  • encourage customers to shop alone, unless they need specific assistance
  • remind customers that they’re responsible for making sure children are following social distancing guidelines
  • look at your shop’s layout to see if there’s a way you can adjust the flow of customers to reduce congestion and contact (for example, queue management and one-way flow)
  • make sure changes to entries, exits and queues also accommodate disabled shoppers and anyone else who needs adjustments
  • see if you can offer extra parking or bike racks to help people avoid public transport
  • use your outside space for queuing
  • manage outside queues to make sure they don’t put other people and businesses at risk
  • work with your local authority or landlord on your processes, to minimise impact on public spaces
  • if you’re in a shopping centre, you could speak to your landlord to make sure they’re taking responsibility for the number of customers in the centre and queuing processes
  • make sure staff apply social distancing when giving assistance
  • work with local businesses to see if you can stagger opening hours, limiting the number of people in the area at one time

Giving your customers guidance when they come to your shop

Make sure you let your customers know about the latest guidelines and what they need to do to stick to them.

You can do this through signage and visual aids, as well as verbally. Think about people who are hard of hearing or visually impaired (or have other protected characteristics).

Hygiene guidance for shops

If you’re currently closed but are due to reopen, you need to assess your site to make sure it’s ready. This will usually involve checking your cleaning procedures (including providing hand sanitiser).

The government specifically mentions looking at your ventilation system to make sure it doesn’t automatically lower ventilation, because of a lower-than-normal number of customers in your shop.

When you’re open, be sure to clean frequently, paying special attention to objects that people touch, including self-checkouts, baskets, trolleys, card readers, and coffee machines.

Staff work areas should be clean at the end of shifts, disposing of waste and clearing belongings. There’s specific guidance if you’re cleaning after a known or suspected case of coronavirus.

Hygiene for your staff

If you have staff it’s important to encourage proper hygiene, including frequent hand washing, and coughing or sneezing into a tissue. You can do this through posters and signs. You can also put hand sanitiser in locations throughout your work areas.

Social distancing needs to be enforced in toilets, as well as regular cleaning. Busy areas should be regularly cleaned, with more waste disposal facilities and frequent rubbish collection.

Hygiene for clothes stores

If you run a clothes store, any fitting rooms pose an extra challenge for hygiene. The government says these should be closed wherever possible (unless your shop offers protective clothing for key workers, when very frequent cleaning should take place).

Guidance for handling goods and merchandise

The ability to handle goods and merchandise should be limited, as well as the ability to pass goods hand-to-hand. You can do this by using different display methods and introducing pick-up and drop-off points.

If people are returning items, you can put ‘no-contact’ return policies in place and use contactless card machines for refunds.

If items have been handled extensively, they should be kept in a separate room for 72 hours before they go back to the shop.

This guidance covers deliveries, too. The government says the frequency of deliveries should be minimised so you’re handling goods less often.

What about face coverings?

As of 24 June, face coverings are mandatory for shoppers. This means that customers can be fined if they don't wear a face covering in store. The government is asking businesses to encourage compliance, for example by putting up notices on the door.

You and your staff aren't required to wear face coverings, but the government "recommends that businesses consider their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place".

If you ask your staff to wear face coverings, you should support them in using them safely, for example by encouraging them to wash their hands for 20 seconds before putting one on and after taking one off.

The government says that you and your staff shouldn’t use proper PPE if you don’t already use it in the workplace, as PPE needs to be reserved for those who need it most.

The guidelines also say that face coverings "are not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk, including minimising time spent in contact, using fixed teams and partnering for close-up work, and increasing hand and surface washing". You can't rely on face coverings as risk management for the purpose of health and safety assessments.

Managing your employees

It’s important to pay extra attention to workforce management, if you have employees.

This might involve coordinating shift work, minimising unnecessary travel for work, and keeping a close eye on deliveries to make sure that social distancing is taking place.

Ongoing communication is key here – employees need to understand all the coronavirus-secure measures and preventions you’ve put in place. You could also start talking to your staff about the importance of mental health and wellbeing in uncertain times.

Guides for small business owners

Please use this article as a guide only. You can read the full government guidelines here.

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Sam Bromley

Written by

Sam Bromley

Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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