The importance of health and safety in the retail environment
“South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act puts the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of all employees, visitors and contractors on the employer. In the retail environment, this onus rests on the centre owner who has to ensure that the common areas used by the public are safe, as well as look after the general safety and compliance of each store or shop within the centre. However, it is the responsibility of the individual store owner to ensure the health and safety of his or her employees and customers,” Pieter explains.
The general condition of the store must be maintained and in a good condition at all times. This includes display units, electrical installations, cashier points and shelves. Even a small fault on any item in store could result in a potentially dangerous incident that puts the safety of the public and staff at risk. Similarly, the day-to-day activities of the store must be completed in a planned and processed manner.
“For example, if the store has maintenance scheduled during business hours, it should be completed according to the implemented SOP’s, risk assessments and method statements. This will ensure that the maintenance teams take ownership of how they conduct themselves and that they work in a manner that does not have the possibility of causing harm to themselves or the public,” he says.
The most common hazards in the retail environment
Although hazards associated with the retail environment are often thought to be low risk, accidents remain common and can inflict significant extra costs on a business. Given its size and complexity, there is also a wide variety of potential dangers that need to be prepared for.
Explains Pieter: “The retail sector attracts a large number of people who enter the environment as shoppers, employees and suppliers. One thing we have learnt over the years is that is not always what we do, but how we do it that causes accidents.”
The most common hazards associated with the retail sector include:
The Covid-19 pandemic has reintroduced the OHS Act as a vital part of any business, but most especially in the retail environment. While thousands of workers were told to stay home, grocery retail workers continued to go to work. Long shifts and extra workloads were introduced to keep up with demand, and in many cases retail workers reported that they did not have enough protective gear to deal with the hundreds of customers a day at the height of the pandemic. The recent health crisis highlighted not only the importance of workers at the forefront, but in many cases also the vulnerability of big retailers.
“When government unexpectedly announced the closure of beaches during the December holidays in 2020, bored holidaymakers flocked to local shopping malls for entertainment and relaxation. Even during a normal year this would have been a busy and taxing time for store owners as thousands of feet pass through their shops for Christmas shopping. The added responsibility of having to implement and maintain Covid restrictions such as social distancing and sanitising protocols, resulted in the industry realising the benefits afforded to them by partnering with professional OHS service providers such as Afroteq Advisory.
Lessons learnt from looting and riots in KZN and Gauteng
Another unexpected and cataclysmic incident that highlighted the importance of having a robust health and safety plan in place in the retail environment, was the recent looting and riots that took place in KZN and Gauteng in 2021.
“If the last two years taught us as South Africans anything, it is that a comfort zone is a dangerous place. We often heard companies and retailers say that they have been doing the same thing for the past twenty years. They rejected the idea of an OHS assessment and allowing us to draw up a personalised plan for them, because nothing has ever happened to them. Out of the blue and without warning the pandemic hit, followed by widespread looting a few months later. Only the businesses that took health and safety seriously prior to the pandemic, were ahead of the curve and able to resume their operations well ahead of their competitors and with minimal disruptions and losses suffered,” Pieter concludes.
For more information about Afroteq Advisory, visit https://www.afroteq.co.za/ohsafroteq/.