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The essential safety guidelines of a retail store

13 March 2023

A set of safety guidelines for a retail store is crucial for both employees and customers. 

There are many specific potential risks in a retail store that employers must address, both on the shop floor and behind the scenes. These range from minor injuries to life-changing tragedies and in the worst case can be fatal.

Any retail store owner must take steps to ensure every employee and customer is as safe as possible at all times whether they run a store that operates in the homeware, food or fashion sector

Accidents also cause time off, with the employer having to pay sick pay to contracted staff. This can also cause a reduction in morale among workers if a colleague has been seriously injured. Plus, it may mean having to train someone else to do the job of the injured person.

The safety guidelines of a retail store can be implemented in many ways, from providing the right protective items to putting up signage and posters warning of potentially dangerous situations. 

This article lists a set of safety guidelines for a retail store.

Clara Jammes

What are the safety guidelines of a retail store?

The most common injuries in retail storesThe guidelines exist to set standards that must be followed in order to prevent any injury to anyone who enters the retail store safe. These are like a list of rules and tips to follow to ensure that everyone is protected.

The most common potential injury situations in the retail sector include:

  • falls
  • slips on wet surfaces
  • damage to limbs from sharp edges
  • falling products or merchandising equipment

Avoiding retail store hazards

All these situations can be avoided with the implementation of a policy that addresses potential risks.

With so many insurance companies today offering a ‘no win, no fee’ deal, people can claim for the smallest incident. To prevent this from happening to your retail store you should do all you can to ensure your business has the highest standards in place.

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What are the best ways to avoid injuries?

Make people aware of the dangers that exist in stores

One of the main ways to educate people about potential risks is to provide them with tips and information. This can be done through the careful positioning of clear and legible signs and posters.

To keep your business as safe as possible you need to regularly review the potential dangers and signage and keep a record of all signs and those that may need replacing.

Example retail store protection signs

  • fire exits, fire doors and assembly points
  • slippery floors due to spillages or cleaning
  • no smoking
  • inflammable materials
  • first aid
  • no entry
  • forklift truck operations
Good to know: regulations

All UK employees must comply with the Health and Safety Regulations 1996. Failure to do this as a retail store owner may lead to legal action if there is an accident or an inspector visits your premises.

Lighting for safety and atmosphere 

A well-lit retail store not only enhances the customer experience but can also prevent accidents. Poor lighting causes low visibility and can result in trips and falls by both customers and employees. 

Entrances and exits should be well lit, as well as corners and aisles. It’s also important to consider outside lighting if you have a store car park, from the point of view of the personal protection of staff and customers and to light their path to their vehicle.

Good lighting also makes work in a retail store easier. While low lighting may be required to create a particular atmosphere, there should be adequate lighting in operations areas, such as at the point of sale. 

Natural light is the best way to provide good lighting, however, this is only likely to be near the store windows. Electric or LED lighting can be used throughout the rest of the store.

The importance of safe merchandising 

Equipment design and maintenance

Poorly built or installed shelves or merchandising equipment run the risk of breaking or falling over and injuring people in the vicinity. It should be installed by a reputable company, ideally, a shopfitter who is an expert in the field.

Shelves should be able to adequately hold the load they are designed for and not be overstocked or piled high, putting them in danger of collapse. 

Protecting children is essential

Remember too, that children love to touch and play on displays and run around stores. Mannequins can fall over, and displays can collapse in seconds if not securely anchored. 

Whilst it is impossible to provide a completely child-proof a store, it is important retailers take as many precautions as possible. This is relevant in particular to stores selling toys and baby clothing or goods as parents are likely to shop with their children. 

A safe salesfloor and storage area

The importance of salesfloor safety

When you design a retail store it’s important to consider the materials to be used on the shop floor, for example:

  • mats in areas where spillages are likely to occur
  • an umbrella stand and mat at the entrance to prevent wet floors
  • protection on sharp edges and corners of display stands

Even items like scissors used to cut gift wrap are a hazard if not stored correctly.

Don´t forget warehouse and stockroom safety

A stockroom or warehouse in the retail sector can be busy and needs to be organised. Often people will be collecting items for customers quickly and all it takes is one trip over an item left in an aisle to cause an accident.

Anything that is mobile in the warehouse is a potential hazard. The moving parts of a device can crush or damage fingers in seconds and employees should never try to fix a mechanical failure themselves.

The stockroom should always be tidy and provide the right equipment to remove items from high shelves. Heavy lifting machines should only be used by people trained to use it properly, for example, forklift trucks.

Every year there are several forklift accidents on retailers’ premises, often caused by people not knowing how to operate them correctly. This is a dangerous vehicle and must be handled correctly. Forklifts are prone to tipping over as moving loads requires the right balance.

Good to know:  forklift operations

You must be over 18 years of age to operate a forklift. Whilst a road driving licence is not required forklift drivers must be trained to drive the vehicle, which is the responsibility of the employer.

Keeping the forklift well maintained is also the responsibility of the employer. If there is an accident due to a forklift not being checked this could cause temporary closure of the store and the loss of sales and profit, not to mention bad publicity and news.

Knives and cutters to open packaging are also a danger if not stored correctly. Cuts often happen when people are in a hurry or cut corners to save time. It’s easy to put a knife down and forget it – leaving an exposed blade for a colleague passing who’s not expecting it to be there. 

Keep things tidy to avoid accidents

Salesfloor tidiness for safety and to maintain your store image

Walkways, aisles and stairs should always be kept tidy and free of debris. Staff should be encouraged to tidy up as they go and never leave packaging or goods on the shop floor where it could cause a danger to others.

One of the hazards of in the retail sector is items that are left in aisles that can be tripped over. Walkways should always kept free of obstacles and clutter.

We’ll all been in a supermarket where a worker has left a trolley or pallet of stock in an aisle while they refill the shelves. Sometimes it’s necessary to restock when the store is open to meet customer demand and keep displays looking full. However, this should always be carried out with the greatest caution and as rapidly and safely as possible.

If you have a clothing retail store don’t cram too many items on a rack. This has the potential for items to fall on the floor and cause a trip or slip.

Never leave stools to reach high shelves in the aisles – these are tempting for small children to climb on or even customers to try and reach that heavy item on the top shelf. Reaching to get an item increases the chance of losing your balance and falling, which could result in serious injuries.

If your retail store does have things high-up that customers can´t reach always ensure the area is well signed, advising people to ask for assistance.

Fact: Electrical retailer fined for customer tripping

This company was in the news and fined £9,000 + costs after a customer tripped over a raised plinth that was covered by carpet. This was not the first time this happened at this store, and it was found on inspection that the company had not followed the improvement notice served on them after the first incident.

Warehouse, stockroom tidiness and manual handling to keep things safe behind the scenes

A clean and tidy storage area will help prevent accidents and also helps the efficient management of inventory. Packaging and empty pallets should always be removed from aisles immediately and either disposed of or stored correctly.

Additionally, any spills in the warehouse should be cleaned up straight away, for example, broken containers with liquids or oil spills from warehouse machinery.

Waste bins should be emptied regularly to avoid overflowing debris and potential slip or trip hazards.

One of the most common injuries, especially in a storage area is strains, musculoskeletal disorders or back pain due to handling heavy objects incorrectly. 

Employees should be aware of the correct way to pick up a heavy box or item, i.e. by bending the knees and balancing the body weight. There are manual handling training courses available to take online or in the workplace. These are inexpensive and it should be the responsibility of the employer to pay for and ensure that staff are trained in how to move heavy loads in the workplace.

COVID-19 guidelines for retail stores

COVID measures are important and show your sense of responsibility

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2019 and the return to normality retailers now have to take precautions against the spread of coronavirus. COVID is continually evolving so it’s essential retailers keep up with the latest guidelines, which can be found on the UK government website

A regular cleaning procedure should be in place to ensure good hygiene, even if restrictions have been removed.

Preventing COVID in retail stores

Measures should be taken by retailers to prevent the spread of the virus. These tips can help you with the management of COVID threats in your store:

  • the use of social distancing signs
  • creating a one-way system
  • controlling the number of customers in the store
  • using screens at payment points
  • offering contactless payments instead of cash
  • regularly cleaning and disinfecting
  • keeping doors and windows open when possible
  • using signs to remind staff and customers (if you offer customer toilets) to wash and sanitise their hands
  • providing hand sanitiser at the entrance and within the store
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Cleaning your retail store

The dangers of cleaning products

Cleaning a retail store holds a potential risk due to the products used. Bleach and other cleaning chemicals can be extremely hazardous if used incorrectly. 

Cleaning products should be stored securely, ideally in a lockable cabinet.

Another risk of cleaning is wet floors, especially when cleaning up after a breakage. While the cleaning is taking place the area should be cordoned off and signage used to inform of the potential danger and stop people from entering the zone.

Any person responsible for cleaning should be aware of the correct product for the task and the amount to use. If necessary, they should be provided with gloves and a mask to avoid unnecessary contact with harmful cleaning chemicals.

The importance of disinfecting in retail

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, cleaning is now more important than ever. Responsibility for disinfecting surfaces regularly can be down to one person or shared between colleagues. What is important is that whoever is doing the cleaning has had training in the products they are using.

Example of hazardous cleaning

If a soap or oil-based cleaning product is used on a floor it will create a slippery film. Only products designed to clean floors should be used. 

Risks to third parties that visit your store

Other visitors to your retail premises

In addition to staff and customers being made aware of potential risks, third-party visitors to the premises should also be protected. This includes contractors working on the site, salespeople and other visitors related to the business.

Other visitors could be merchandisers who enter the store to build displays, delivery people and management from other branches.

Contractors working in your store

If needed in the retail store, it is ideal for them to do their job out of store hours. Whilst this may cost more in terms of their fee, this is a much more cost-effective solution than a compensation claim because a customer has tripped over an electrician’s cable.

Third parties who are on the premises for any length of time should be made aware of the health and safety policy and adhere to it. 

What do I need to ensure my retail store is safe?

The responsibility to prevent accidents in-store

To prevent accidents in a retail store, the management or owner are responsible for carrying out regular risk assessments. If your store is large with several employees, you may wish to nominate a contact person to be responsible for health and safety. 

Clearly, the number of stores you run gives a higher potential risk. Larger businesses have a designated person to minimise potentially dangerous situations.

Why retail store guidelines are important

If guidelines are not in place, you run the risk of a customer or employee claiming compensation related to an accident on your premises. This could potentially destroy the business as claims can run into thousands of pounds. It could also ruin your reputation as a responsible employer.

Fact: Supermarket pays costs of £25,000 to a worker who slipped in hot oil*

This accident was caused when a supermarket worker poured oil in excess of 100°c from a fat fryer into a bucket, caused by there being no system in place for emptying the fryer. The ensuing publicity was extremely bad news for the retailer.

How to implement the guidelines for retail store safety

Scheduling regular checks

The risk assessment should be broken down into timings – e.g. daily, weekly and monthly. A daily risk assessment would include a walk around the premises checking for loose cables, light bulb replacement, risks of falling objects etc.

Weekly and monthly risk assessments consider potential risks that may occur because of something new – e.g. a range of heavy garden furniture is due to be delivered for the summer season, or new merchandising equipment is going to be delivered and set up.

There are several templates for risk assessments online. The important points they should contain include:

  • identification of potential hazards – on the whole premises: shopfloor, stockroom or warehouse and staff rest and dining areas.
  • who is at risk – customers and employees
  • how risks will be managed and who is responsible for removing them

Reporting and recording risks

People should be encouraged to report any risk they observe to management as soon as possible. There should be a documented procedure for risk reports related to:

  • the date risk was reported
  • by whom and to who
  • details of risk
  • person responsible for eliminating the risk
  • action taken
  • the date the risk was removed

If you’re opening a retail store we’d like to help. Join our Ankorstart support programme for free advice and guidance on setting up your store. 


Why is health and safety important in my retail store?

To keep everyone safe – staff, customers and other visitors to your store. If someone is injured or worse, it is your responsibility if the correct guidelines have not been followed.

What are the main risks in a retail store for customers?

The main hazards for customers are related to:

  • slips and falls
  • tripping over cables or packaging left on the shop floor
  • merchandise falling from a height
What are the main risks in a retail store for staff?

While it is impossible to forecast every possible risk that could occur in a retail store, there are a set of main situations that are more likely to happen because of the nature of the business.

The main retail store hazards for workers include:

  • manual handling
  • exposure to cleaning products
  • tripping in the stockroom
  • falling off ladders
  • injury from a forklift or other machinery (e.g. packaging cutters)
How can I make sure I have implemented the right guidelines in my retail store?

Following all the points above will give you plenty of ideas on how to follow the guidelines. You can also refer to the Health and Safety Executive website for further advice.

It is essential that you carry out regular risk assessments to prevent any accidents before they occur. 

Do I need to appoint a H&S officer in my retail store?

This depends on the size of the store and how many people you employ. If your business is small, you should be able to oversee H&S yourself. However, if you run a large store with several staff and an operating warehouse it is advisable to have a nominated contact person, even if they do this as part of their overall role.

What resources do I need to maintain the guidelines?

You don´t need any specific resources, but you do need to be aware of the potential risks and have a system in place to reduce them. There should be a manual in the office that everyone has access to, whatever the size of your retail store.

People should have training in what to do if an accident occurs, for example, where the first aid box is located, who the first aider is, how to contact them and how to isolate the area, depending on the situation. 

Where can I learn more about H&S for my retail store?

You can familiarise yourself with the Health And Safety At Work Act 1974 which details the duties you have as an employer towards your employees and the general public ‘as far as is reasonably practical’. This gives the requirements you must follow to ensure your retail store is following its legal obligations to others.

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