Danger in the Aisles – a Retailer’s Liability
For most, shopping is an event-free and perhaps a mundane necessity, but each year shoppers become the unfortunate victims of accidents in shops, supermarkets, and shopping centres across the UK. Customers can slip, trip, or encounter dangerous conditions in stores. Several high-profile cases in recent months have once again highlighted the need for retailers to remind themselves of their duty of care to keep the shopping environment as risk-free as possible.
Property owners, managing agents, and occupiers have a duty to keep the property in a safe condition and can be held to be liable if they know of a danger and fail to eliminate it, or if they create hazards or know of a hazard and fail to take steps to avoid it.
Retailers should obtain regulatory permission to display/stock/sell high-risk products, and ensure that safety instructions are provided with relevant products. This could include any product with manufacturer guidance to: ‘keep out of reach of children’.
Conducting effective risk assessments and taking care to adhere to health and safety policies and procedures such as cleaning and housekeeping regimes can prevent an accident taking place while also protecting against civil claims, the risk of criminal prosecution, and your brand reputation.
CAUSES OF RETAIL ACCIDENTS
In today’s busy retail environments, retailers take great care to ensure that their premises are as safe as possible for both customers and staff; however, a variety of hazards remains omnipresent.
Children accessing higher risk products: Any product listed as ‘keep out of reach of children’ should be displayed accordingly.
Slip and trip hazards[i]: These include damp floors, which are left after cleaning, product and food spills, or simply from customers entering from the rain, and trip hazards, such as stock cages and products left in the aisles awaiting re-stocking, or loose carpeting, or cracked flooring. Retailers should also consider inclement weather arrangements, particularly in winter months, for example, gritting procedures in car parks and around store entrances.
Unstable displays: Unstable merchandising displays from overstocking or unsafe fitments may result in products falling from shelves.
Unsafe equipment or insufficient training: Accidents resulting from insufficient training or lack of supervision of new tools or equipment is a common problem for staff in the industry, particularly around work at height equipment such as ladders.
KEEPING SAFETY IN FRONT OF MIND
Retailers can take a proactive approach to managing health and safety risk by creating and maintaining a clear operations procedure manual and requiring employees to keep maintenance logs and report any dangerous conditions. Employers should make it mandatory that employees are trained in these procedures and that they are followed as a matter of routine.
It is essential to carry out risk assessments of the workplace to understand what could cause harm, and who might be affected.
It is also advisable to have clear and robust procedures in place to properly investigate and respond to reported accidents and incidents from staff and members of the public — without unduly admitting liability in the process before the full facts are established
Retailers should ensure their suppliers have adequate product liability and recall insurance, and routinely check that higher-risk products are child proof.
Further guidance is available from the Health and Safety Executive.