Top issues and themes from COVID inspections in retail

It’s a new year, and while we can say goodbye to 2020, we cannot say goodbye to COVID-19 just yet. As retailers are well aware, COVID-19 and its impact on normal business operations will be around for some time.  

As time goes by and restrictions ease, we are at risk of complacency. This is certainly not the time for businesses or the community to be complacent. Recent cases in Victoria and Queensland have certainly highlighted the importance for all of us to continue to take precautions and remain diligent.  For retailers, this means keeping abreast of your obligations and ensuring you understand any current restrictions in place. Ensuring you have a COVID Safe Plan for your workplace, and the plan is in accordance with local public health directions and occupational/work health and safety requirements. It’s critical the plan is implemented and regularly reviewed.

COVID Inspections in Retail (Victoria)

While there are many examples of retailers applying COVID Safe principles in the workplace, WorkSafe Victoria COVID inspector activity throughout December has highlighted some common issues and themes in the Retail, Food and Accommodation and Hair and Beauty sector. 

For some retailers this has resulted in WorkSafe Victoria issuing improvement notices to rectify the deficiencies in their COVID management systems. Between 1 December and 10 December 2020, WorkSafe Victoria issued 9 improvement notices in retail and 2 notices in Hair Dressing and Beauty Services:

  • 3 Fresh Meat, Fish and Poultry
  • 2 Clothing Retailing
  • Footwear Retailing
  • 1 Watch and Jewellery
  • 2 Other retails
  • 2 Notices in Hair Dressing and Beauty Services

The themes identified in the improvement notices were:

  • No COVID Safe Plan
  • Inadequate cleaning
  • Density quotation and physical distancing, signage
  • CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) factors

The top issues/themes in notices for the COVID inspection period 1 December 2020 – 6 January 2021 for Retail, Food and Accommodation and Hair and Beauty, as identified by WorkSafe Victoria were:

  • No maximum occupancy limits displayed
  • No or inadequate COVID Safe plan
  • Not adhering to COVID Safe plan
  • Inadequate cleaning
  • No facemasks or social distancing
  • Failure to comply with density quotient
  • No information, instruction or training provided to employees in relation to controlling risks associated with COVID

Lessons can be learnt from inspector activity outcomes. Retailers should consider the top issues/themes, as listed above, and review their own COVID Safe plan to ensure there are no deficiencies in these areas. 

Retail trade sector guidance

The COVID safe requirements for workplaces vary across jurisdictions. It is therefore important that retailers are familiar with and understand the COVID public health and OHS/WHS requirements of the State/Territory and regions they are operating in, and the COVID Safe Plan’s reflect these requirements.  

In Victoria, for example, the Victorian Government Coronavirus website has a webpage dedicated to retail trade sector guidance.  The resource provides information on the current restrictions, industry restart guidelines and frequently asked questions.  

Another example of State based guidance for the retail industry, is NSW Government’s Retail and grocery’ webpage. Here, retailers have access to a COVID-19 Safety Plan template which they can complete online, register their business as a COVID Safe business, and access QR codes and other business resources. 

Retailers are strongly encouraged to identify and understand the requirements of each jurisdiction they operate their retail business in, and ensure that COVID safe controls are developed and implemented in accordance with these requirements. 


The material within this update is provided for general information and educational purposes in summary form on topics which are current when it is first published. The content does not constitute legal advice or recommendations and should not be relied upon as such.



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