By Nicky Strong of law firm Womble Bond Dickinson
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 which includes provisions setting out those businesses which can remain open during the current lock-down period and those which must remain closed, are next due for review no later than Thursday 7 May. The regulations also specify that as soon as the Secretary of State considers that any restrictions or requirements set out in these regulations are no longer necessary to prevent, protect against, control or provide a public health response to the incidence or spread of coronavirus, they must publish a direction terminating that restriction or requirement. That direction could relate to a variety of businesses and premises, or may be more narrowly constructed, as the UK finds its way out of lock-down.
Against this backdrop, and in preparation for non-food retail shops being permitted to re-open with social distancing measures in place, the British Retail Consortium published its guidance for non-food retailers on 26 April. This has been written in conjunction with the Union of Shop, Distribution and Allied Workers.The guidance explains that it outlines non-exhaustive recommendations that retailers may wish to consider, based on the experience of food retailers in how to implement effective social distancing measures. It also emphasises that it remains the responsibility of each business to decide on the practical measures applicable to its particular circumstances which should also be discussed with staff.
Current government guidance
The current government guidance on the regulations sets out the steps which businesses which remain open should take to ensure social distancing requirements are complied with. These include:
- Using signage to direct movement into lanes, if feasible, while maintaining a two metre distance
- Where it is possible to remain two metres apart, using floor markings to mark the distance, particularly in the most crowded areas (for example, where queues form)
- Regulating the numbers entering the premises so that they do not become overcrowded
- Using additional signage to ask customers not to enter the premises if they have symptoms
- Placing plexiglass barriers at points of regular interaction as an additional element of protection for workers and customers
- where customers might touch or lean against the barriers, ensuring they are cleaned and disinfected as often as is feasible in line with standard cleaning procedures
- Making regular announcements to remind staff and/or customers to follow social distancing advice and wash their hands regularly
- Providing additional pop-up handwashing stations or facilities if possible, providing soap, water, hand sanitiser and tissues and encouraging staff and customers to use them.
The BRC guidance
The guidance sets out various recommendations covering outside store premises measures as well as in-store, including sections on cleaning and hygiene, general social distancing and specific advice on shop floor and till areas, changing rooms, customer seating and special assistance as well as providing reminders on required workplace measures and health and safety requirements during this time. Many of the recommendations are already covered by the government guidance set out above, with helpful additional guidance on specific aspects, following the experience already gained by food retailers. Suggested measures include:
- Limiting the number of entry and exit points into and out of store, with separate entrances and exits if possible
- Using staff to meet and greet customers, to explain the social distancing requirements and control the number of customers entering store at any one time. Alternatively, using clear signage in multiple areas to explain the measures in place
- Using markings to set out the two metre distancing space between customers and creating temporary barriers to manage queues outside stores;
- Reminding customers to shop alone where possible
- Scheduling deliveries appropriately to avoid over-crowding in delivery areas.
- Providing disinfectant wipes or spray and tissues for trolley/basket handles
- Regular cleaning of key contact points – door handles, lift buttons, keypads, stair/escalator hand rails
- Considering the implementation of a one-way system to help maintain social distancing
- Reviewing the store layout to ensure aisles/walkways are as clear as possible, and removing promotional stands or features where necessary
- Self-checkout touch screens/keypads – ensuring these are regularly cleaned; preferably after each use
- Considering keeping changing rooms closed or ensuring that they are monitored so that the social distance requirement is met
- Limiting customer seating in store, and spacing this out appropriately
- Setting up specific advice/assistance areas if required, and introducing safe methods to allow potential buyers to try out products before they buy e.g. trying on a pair of headphones
- Assessing whether toilets should be closed or only accessible on request with a review of the cleaning frequency and procedures. Baby changing areas should remain open but the cleaning frequency of these should be reviewed.
The guidance is designed to be operationally practical and should prove very useful for retailers in planning and preparing for how they will re-open once the current restrictions are lifted. Retailers should also ensure that they discuss the plans with staff well in advance to allay any concerns and to provide reassurance on the measures to be put in place. Alongside this, the BRC also published guidance on warehousing and distribution facilities, which contains similar practical suggestions. The full guidance is available on the BRC website.