Last reviewed 30 July 2021

Grainne Kelly summarises the updated Government guidance to help those who run and work in shops, branches and close contact services understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although 19 July 2021 was fanfared as “freedom day” in the media, the UK and other devolved regional Governments are still issuing guidance advising businesses about how to control the risk of Covid-19 transmission. The latest, issued on covers shops, branches (eg post offices, branches or financial institutions) and close contact services (eg hairdressers, dress fitters, tattoo studios).

Although this guidance is specifically for the retail sector and close contact service sectors, much of the advice applies across all work sectors, so this feature will concentrate on the advice specifically directed at those who work in or run shops, branches, stores, or similar environments or provide close contact services.

Each employer is still required to carry out their own risk assessment and based on this, implement controls, so the Government guide highlights that shops, branches, stores, close contact services, etc are responsible for clearly communicating the control measures resulting from their risk assessment to workers and customers, taking into account some may have particular needs (eg visually impaired, English not first language).

Keeping staff and visitors safe

The Government has identified eight priority actions for businesses, as follows.

  1. Complete a Covid-19 risk assessment.

  2. Provide adequate ventilation, eg by keeping doors and windows open where possible.

  3. Clean more often.

  4. Keep all workers and third parties up to date with your safety measures.

  5. Turn away people with Covid-19 symptoms (whether staff, contractors, visitors or customers). Ensure that any worker who is required to self-isolate is not knowingly required or encouraged to come to work.

  6. Enable people to check in at your venue, although it is no longer a requirement to collect customer details.

Note:

that Covid control measures should continue even if employees have recently tested negative, have natural immunity (based on a positive PCR within the past 180 days) or had one or both doses of the vaccine.

Risk assessments

Regardless of what sector your organisation operates in, all guides requires employers or the self-employed to complete a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. See the feature Risk management for Covid-19: the new normal for advice on how to assess and control the risks of a return to the workplace.

The UK Government guide emphasises that shops, branches, stores and close contact services, etc are responsible for clearly communicating the guidelines to workers and customers.

The risk assessment should consider whether there is increased risk (and therefore the need for additional controls) for clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (or those who live with clinically extremely vulnerable individuals) or those who are at higher risk of infection and/or of adverse outcome if infected.

Workers should be consulted during the risk assessment process and about the risk controls implemented at the end of the risk assessment process, including the timing and phasing of return to work.

Workplace testing

Regular testing can help identify positive cases of Covid-19 in your workforce. Any business can pay an approved provider to provide tests or run testing for you, and employees can also get free lateral flow tests to use at home from pharmacies and testing centres.

As before, anyone with symptoms can get a free NHS test.

Hazards and risk controls for shops and branches

The following are the common hazards and controls identified for this type of working environment.

The hazard: Transmission between people within the premises

Controls considered should include the following.

  • Ensure employees do not come to work and customers do not enter the premises if they may be infected — workers should clearly understand what the procedures are if they become ill, and what symptoms need to be reported and acted upon. Workers and customers should self-isolate if they exhibit the symptoms of Covid or if a close contact has had a positive Covid-19 result . Employees must not be allowed to work if they have been contacted by NHS test and trace and instructed to self-isolate.

  • Increase fresh air ventilation — there is evidence that improving fresh air ventilation reduces the risk of airborne transmission by diluting airborne virus, so ventilation through the premises (including back of house as well as the customer facing part of the premises) should be optimised by:

    • leaving doors, vents and/or windows open

    • using ventilation systems (and set to maximise fresh air, while minimising recirculation of air)

    • purging areas periodically by opening windows and doors when rooms are unoccupied — this may be a practical solution if the weather is cold

    • encouraging the use of outside areas where practical — such as during exercise or where people are raising their voices.

    If ventilation cannot be improved in poorly ventilated spaces, then consideration should be given to limiting time spent in these spaces, reducing the number of people who use them or using carbon dioxide monitors to provide warning that activity in the area is increasing the transmission risk.

  • Although social distancing guidance no longer applies, there are still measures shops, branches and close contact services can consider using to reduce the number of individual contacts, eg by erecting screens or barriers at customer service points.

  • Encourage the use of face coverings by workers and customers — although the use of face coverings is no longer a legal requirement, guidance indicates that the UK Government still expects them to be used in enclosed spaces and that signage should be used to encourage both workers and customers to comply (unless they are exempt).

  • Consideration should be given to those people who require the opportunity to lip read or to hear clear sound.

  • “Close” working — if close working is required, then additional control should be implemented, eg minimising the close working time as far as possible, increasing handwashing/sanitising frequency, using back-to-back or side-to-side working, using regular partners for close working. Screening should be considered between workstations for any close contact services which may involve workstations being located next to each other, eg hairdressing.

The hazard: Contact with contaminated surfaces

Controls considered should include the following.

  • Provide hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities on entry to and exit from the premises — and encourage employees and customers to use it.

  • Frequent cleaning of commonly used surfaces — such as door handles/push plates, stair handrails, lift control buttons, cash desks, self-checkouts, trolleys, coffee machines, and handheld devices. The properties of the cleaning chemicals used should be checked to ensure they provide adequate sanitisation (although normal cleaning chemicals are usually adequate). Provide wipes and cleaning equipment so that employees can easily clean items/touch points after each customer’s use.

  • Rules for contact with goods — workers should be encouraged to wash or sanitise their hands more often and customers should be encouraged to only touch goods they intend to purchase.

  • Use of fitting rooms — there should be a gap of a couple of minutes between uses where the door/curtain is left open to increase fresh air flow into the area and allow the fitting room to be cleaned. If the premises have multiple fitting rooms, they should be used alternately — this will give time for the cubicle that has just been used to be cleaned/ventilated. Sanitiser should be available at the entry/exit to the fitting room(s) and employees should be instructed on the cleaning procedure to be followed. Procedures should be implemented to minimise contact employees have with clothes that have been tried on.

  • Close contact — those involved with close contact services should sanitise reuseable equipment between appointments and between shifts, eg customer chairs, treatment beds, tools. Where gowns are provided, disposable ones should be provided or they should be washed between uses. Equipment should be assigned to each employee to minimse sharing.

  • Dealing with goods delivered to site/returned by customers — where possible, put in place "no contact" picking-up and dropping-off points that do not require physical handover of goods. This may also include procedures for contactless refunds.

  • Toilets — should be kept open to allow for handwashing and be carefully cleaned and managed and well ventilated. To reduce the risk of contact transmission, signs and posters can be used to encourage people to wash their hands effectively and consider providing hand sanitiser on the entrance to toilets.

The hazard: Potentially infected people mixing with others and increasing the risk of transmission

  • Create and display a QR code — (available at https://www.gov.uk/create-coronavirus-qr-poster) although it is no longer a legal requirement to collect customer information businesses can display posters enabling customers to scan a code when they enter so that they can take part in NHS Test and Trace is still encouraged (especially for close contact services and betting shops) . If a QR code is displayed the employer should also have a system to record the details of those who do not have the app but want to check in.

  • Operating an appointment and screening system in close contact services — due to their higher risk, close contact services are encouraged to operate appointment systems and to carry out Covid-19 symptom screening of clients before they arrive. Clients should be advised to arrive at the time booked and provided with information about the procedures to be followed (eg to remain outside the building until they receive a telephone call or text message).

Conclusion

Retail business and close contact service employers are legally responsible for identifying, implementing and maintaining these controls and keeping their risk assessments up to date as our understanding of Covid-19 transmission and the Government guidance changes.