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Working in the retail services industry can pose health and safety risks. The work may be physically demanding and carried out under pressure which increases the risk of injuries. Also, workers engage with the public which can increase the risk of violence and harassment. 

The retail services industry usually involves the sale of goods or services to the public. The industry includes: 

  • shopping centres and department stores 
  • fuel, motor vehicle and tyre sales
  • supermarket and grocery stores 
  • other store-based sales
  • non-store based sales (e.g. online stores, market stalls)

Managing risks 

There can be significant health and safety risks in the retail services industry. 

Vulnerable workers may be more at risk of WHS injuries. Vulnerable workers may include: 

  • young workers
  • part-time and casual workers 
  • culturally and linguistically diverse people, such as migrant workers. 

Vulnerable workers may be less aware of what the work health and safety laws are and how they apply to them and their work.  

Young workers may be at an increased risk of injury due to their lack of experience. They may also be:  

  • developing their skills, competencies and physical capabilities
  • unfamiliar with appropriate workplace behaviours
  • reluctant to make requests, ask questions or speak out about problems
  • overly keen to please and make a good impression, and
  • over-confident in their capabilities

Everyone in the workplace has work health and safety duties. Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) have specific obligations to protect the health and safety of everyone in their workplace. As a PCBU, you must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable: 

  • the health and safety of workers and others at your workplace
  • you provide and maintain a work environment that does not pose physical and psychological risks to health and safety, and 
  • workers are given the information, training, instruction and supervision needed for them to carry out their work safely

To manage health and safety risks as a PCBU you must:

  • identify hazards in the workplace 
  • assess the associated risks
  • implement control measures to eliminate or minimise risks, and
  • regularly review control measures to ensure they remain effective. 

You must do these things in consultation with your workers and any health and safety representatives.

Ways to manage risks

You should manage risks by working through the hierarchy of control measures. 

The hierarchy of control measures requires that you first aim to eliminate a risk. For example, using cordless vacuum cleaners to eliminate an identified trip hazard.

If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate a risk, you must minimise the risk. Use one or more of the following approaches to minimise the risks:

  • Substitute the hazard with something safer. For example, replace slippery flooring with a less slippery surface 
  • Isolate the hazard. For example, store equipment correctly and/or use physical barriers to separate workers from trip hazards, and 
  • Use engineering control measures, such as mechanical aids to lift stock to minimise manual handling. 

If risks remain, you must minimise them as much as possible by applying administrative control measures. This may include having cleaning procedures in place to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls. You could also plan work times so that workers are not working alone, where possible. You must also provide training on your workplace’s safe work procedures, including safe use of any machinery.

Young workers and those new to the workplace must be supervised where required to prevent unsafe work practices. Supervisors should be available to answer questions and provide guidance. 

Any remaining risks must be minimised with personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, ensure workers wear covered shoes and gloves where required. 

For more information, see the model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.

Common hazards and risks in the retail services industry

The first step in the risk management process is to identify the hazards and associated risks in the workplace. Common hazards and risks that can lead to injuries in the retail services industry are: 

  • manual handling tasks. For example, lifting and carrying heavy objects and awkward or repetitive movements. Hazardous manual tasks may increase the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and body stress.
  • use of ladders, trip hazards, slippery flooring
  • exposure to work-related violence, aggression, harassment, and bullying
  • stress from issues such as high work demand and low support, and 
  • fatigue, particularly resulting from shift and night work. 

Control measures for common hazards and risks 

Examples of control measures for common hazards and risks in the retail services industry are listed below. You must put control measures in place that are specific to the hazards at your workplace. Potential hazards and control measures are not limited to what is outlined below. 

Hazard: Manual handling 

Control measures:

  • change the design or layout of work areas to eliminate or minimise manual handling 
  • ensure workspace heights are at an appropriate level to reduce the need for awkward postures
  • redesign tasks to minimise manual handling, for example by using mechanical aids 
  • rotate manual handling tasks between workers to reduce the strain from repetitive movements 
  • provide training on correct manual handling procedures. 

For more information, see the model Code of Practice: Hazardous manual tasks.

Risk: Slips, trips and falls, including falls from ladders 

Control measures:

  • maintain floors and surfaces and repair any damage 
  • provide non-slip mats
  • use warning signs to warn workers of wet or potentially slippery floors and surfaces
  • ensure equipment is stored and used correctly
  • ensure floors and surfaces are kept clean and dry
  • ensure staff wear non-slip footwear
  • if using a ladder, ensure it suits the work being carried out 
  • train workers on the use, set up and inspection of ladders 
  • when going up or down a ladder, always have two feet and one hand, or one foot and two hands, on the ladder. When working from a ladder, maintain three points of contact on the ladder; i.e. two feet and one other point of contact, such as a hand or thighs leaning against the ladder.
  • do not stand higher than the second tread below the top plate of a stepladder, with the exception of three-rung stepladders. 

For more information see the model Code of Practice: Managing the risks of falls at workplaces, Slips trips and falls webpage and the Ladder safety infographic

Hazard: Work-related violence, aggression, harassment and bullying

Control measures:

  • manage expectations of customers and provide sufficient staff at peak times
  • ensure access to the premises is appropriately controlled
  • ensure internal and external lighting provides good visibility 
  • limit the amount of cash and valuables held on the premises  
  • ensure there are no dangerous objects that could be thrown or used to injure someone 
  • avoid workers needing to work alone. Where workers must be alone, ensure they are able to call for assistance if required. 
  • put up signs to reflect that the workplace will not accept any forms of violence or aggression
  • train workers in how to deal with difficult customers. For example, training on: 
    • conflict resolution 
    • when to escalate issues to senior staff, and 
    • procedures for reporting incidents
  • provide a positive, respectful work culture. Violence, aggression harassment and bullying by other should not be tolerated.

For more information, see the Work-related violence webpage and the Bullying webpage.

Risk: Psychosocial harm 

Control measures: 

  • clearly define workers’ roles 
  • provide workers with the resources, information and training they need to carry out their work safely
  • regularly review workloads and time pressures with workers
  • check in with workers. Ask them if anything is stressing them and how it could be addressed 
  • support workers who may be more at risk of workplace psychological injury
  • provide workers with a point of contact to discuss their concerns
  • foster a positive, respectful work culture where bullying is not tolerated 
  • refer workers to mental health and wellbeing support services, such as employee assistance programs.

For more information, see the Guide: Work related psychological health and safety: A systemic approach to meeting your duties.  

Hazard: Fatigue 

Control measures: 

  • where possible, provide fit-for-purpose machinery and equipment. For example, provide ergonomic furniture, lifting equipment and anti-fatigue matting. 
  • design work tasks so that workers are not standing for prolonged periods 
  • rotate work tasks that are physically demanding
  • consider scheduling of shifts, particularly when work is undertaken outside standard business hours
  • make sure workers get enough rest breaks during and between working hours. 

For more information, see the Guide for managing the risks of fatigue at work 

Review control measures

Risk management is an ongoing process. You must review control measures regularly to make sure they remain effective. 

Further information

For further information see the model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks, the model Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination and the model Code of Practice: Hazardous manual tasks.

Small businesses can find further information on the small business webpage.


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