The high street is changing: keep on top of liability risks

The British high street has been gradually changing, stores are closing and there is a shift towards online shopping. One of the reasons behind this is that consumer preferences are varying, and they’re realising the benefits of online shopping. This has meant a reduction in demand for retail store space[1].

As a standard, consumers now expect free delivery, access to free Wi-Fi and authenticity from high street retailers. The first two points put more pressure on operating costs, especially for smaller retailers.

Whilst you’re focused on increasing costs, retail models, consumer expectations, and the long term survival of your business, ensuring health and safety might not be at the top of your list. However, failing to manage these risks can have seriously damaging consequences.

What are retail health and safety risks? 

Although retail stores are said to be low-risk when compared to other sectors, there are still many risks you need to be aware of. 

Due to the varying size and layout of retail stores and high levels of customer footfall, accidents are likely to happen. The types of risk varies, depending on the store itself, but there are certain types of recurring claims made against retail stores.

Claims can be generally split into two categories:

Claims from employees (Employers’ Liability)

  • Slips and trips
  • Falls from height
  • Manual handling
  • Workplace transport
  • Injuries caused by equipment or tools

Claims from customers and third parties (Public Liability) 

  • Slips and trips
  • Falls on level surfaces
  • Being struck by equipment or tools
  • Water damage
  • Defective premises

You can help prevent accidents by implementing a certain set of principles to follow. It’s important to minimise the potential of accidents to reduce the total cost when things do go wrong. This will help you protect your reputation and defend against claims from a position of strength. 

The key principles are:

Leadership from senior management 

Your senior management should lead on health and safety for your business. You should document and adopt actions set out from the “joint code” published by the HSE and IoD. This sets out actions for senior management to ensure effective leadership on health and safety. You can find advice on using the HSE guidance here[3].

Appointing someone competent

The Government outlines that most businesses need to appoint one or more competent persons to support the business with health and safety compliance[4]. Not all businesses are the same, so the “competent” person(s) will have different skills and experience depending on your type of business.

For some retail stores, it could be as simple as someone having:

  • An understanding of best practice
  • An awareness of their limitations in experience and knowledge 
  • A willingness and ability to use external help and advice

A structured approach to health and safety

Having effective organising, planning, controls, monitoring and review processes in place are essential in preventing accidents on retail premises. The structured approach is also a legal requirement for many[5]. What’s expected of you will again be determined by your type of business. The HSE have outlined accepted approaches in their publication

General risk assessment

If your business employs 5 or more people then you are required to record risk assessments. For your business to be compliant, you need to record risks and then identify the precautions you need to take. A general risk assessment is the main foundation of health and safety management.

When defending a claim, being able to provide evidence of suitable risk assessments is an important part of the defence. 

To find out more about retail insurance and risks, visit our retail web page

1 https://www.economist.com/news/britain/21700699-many-shops-are-struggling-survive-britains-fast-changing-and-ruthlessly-competitive 
2 Managing liability risks in a challenging retail environment https://insider.zurich.co.uk/pdf-downloads/managing-liability-risks-in-a-challenging-retail-environment/ 
3 http://www.hse.gov.uk/leadership/smallbusinesses.htm 
4 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/3242/regulation/7/made