A safe Christmas in retail

It goes without saying that Christmas 2020 is going to be somewhat different to previous ones. The festive season for retail is a busy one, and this year adds some complexity with additional requirements to keep staff and customers safe from COVID-19. 

The festive season for retail is a busy one, and this year adds some complexity with additional requirements to keep staff and customers safe from COVID-19. What will not change however, is the responsibility for retailers to ensure the health and safety of their workers from other common workplace hazards. It is a timely reminder for retailers, to not let COVID-19 cloud the identification and management of other hazards the workplace.

It is often around this time of year that businesses, including those in retail, are urged by health and safety regulators to look after their staff over the busy Christmas period, as more casual workers are employed to meet customer demands. WorkSafe Victoria states that the holiday season can be the most dangerous time of year, and as it approaches, it is more important than ever to focus on safety in the workplace. In previous years, retailers have faced visits from health and safety regulators as part of the regulators Christmas ‘compliance blitz’. The ‘compliance blitz’ involves the regulators sending inspectors out in force over a two to three month period to issue sanctions ranging from voluntary compliances to improvement notices, and there is also the potential for prosecutions to any retail business neglecting its duty of care to workers.

So, as a retail business, what are some areas you need to focus on in the lead up to and during the holiday season?

1. Induction & training

In the rush to get casual workers onboard and working to meet customer demands during the holiday season, there is the risk that workers will not be provided an adequate induction and training.

An induction and training is necessary to ensure workers can safely perform their work. It is an also a legal requirement for retailers, as an employer, to provide adequate information, instruction, training, and supervision, so far as is reasonably practicable, to their workers. Therefore, it is crucial retailers do not skimp on a proper induction and training program for new staff. If you are not sure what to include in your induction, you can seek guidance from health and safety regulators. For example, Safe Work NSW provide information on how to incorporate safety into a worker’s induction, before they start their job. Safe Work NSW highlight that induction topics need to include:

  • Rights and responsibilities
  • Workplace hazards
  • Safe work procedures

Business Queensland is another resource which provides further guidance on what to include in a work health and safety induction. In addition to the topics highlighted by Safe Work NSW, Business Queensland identify:

  • Special equipment, such as personal protective equipment, which may require additional training
  • Work health and safety legislation
  • Emergency procedures
  • First aid and other contacts

2. Young workers

Young workers (15-24 years) can be a vulnerable section of the workforce as they are at a greater risk of being injured at work than any other age group. The retail sector has a remarkably high concentration of young workers – approximately 40% of the retail workforce are in the young worker category. Considering this, combined with the fact that young workers are at a higher risk of workplace injury, it makes good business sense for retailers to prioritise young worker health and safety. Safe Work Australia explains that young workers are at risk of workplace injury due to their lack of experience and maturity and may be less aware of health and safety risks and responsibilities. For more information, retailers can view the ARA’s Protecting young workers in retail article, and seek further guidance from health and safety regulator websites:

3. Work-related violence

Work-related violence can occur in any industry; however, retail is an industry where violence most often occurs. The ARA has previously gathered information from the membership which suggests incidents of work-related violence in retail increases during the holiday season. This year, the ARA has received reports from members that they have experienced a spike in work-related violence incidents as a result of COVID-19. For example, a customer may become agitated and aggressive due to a retail store not offering its normal services, and the customer being asked to follow COVID-19 safe protocol while in store.  

Last year the ARA prepared an article ‘The season for retailers to manage the risks of work-related violence’ on the risks of work-related violence in the holiday season. This article provides information on a proactive approach to work-related violence.

Retailers can also look to their local health and safety regulator website, for guidance on how to manage work-related violence. WorkSafe WA for example, provides a great resource – Aggression in the workplace: Risk management toolkit which includes a risk assessment tool retailers can adopt to help meet their legal obligations to manage risks associated with aggression in the workplace. WorkSafe WA also have available a PowerPoint presentation template on Preventing and managing occupational aggression, which retailers could customise to educate staff in the lead up to the holiday season.

4. COVID-19

This one should come as no surprise to retailers. COVID-19 a new workplace hazard and therefore businesses are expected to apply a risk management approach to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers. Safe Work Australia provides specific guidance on COVID-19 for the retail sector. The state and territory health and safety regulators also provide guidance on COVID-19 in the workplace. It is important to note that each jurisdiction has its own workplace directions and requirements for COVID Safe Plans. Retailers must keep abreast of these requirements to ensure compliance. To get an overview on what is required when it comes to a COVID Safe Plan in the workplace, retailers can view the ARA article prepared last month – COVIDSafe plan requirements for retailers.

In this article we have addressed 4 health and safety areas for retailers to focus on in the lead up to Christmas. It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive. Other hazard areas that are common to retail and can become more problematic during busier periods include:

  • Work-related stress, resulting from harassment, bullying, abusive customers, concern about exposure to COVID-19, lack of training and support, increased work demand, poor management of health and safety risks
  • Falls from heights, including from stepladders
  • Manual handling risks, including lifting heavy or awkward objects, trips over stock stored on the floor or walkways, repetitive work like reaching for stock

Four key steps

The four key steps to ensuring the health and safety of workers in the lead up to Christmas are:

1. Find the hazards in your workplace

2. Assess the risks associated with those hazards. You don’t have to do a formal risk assessment if there is already information about the risk and how to control it

3. Control the risks

4. Monitor and review your risk controls. Revise the controls if they are not working

It’s important to consult with your workers throughout the risk management process. Involving your workers in health and safety issues can result in a safer workplace. That’s why consultation is an important part of risk management. In certain situations, employers must consult about health and safety issues with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs) if they have them.

By Amy Towers, Risk Collective.




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