Whether you’re a wholesaler of electrical goods or a retailer of clothing, we understand the unique risks your business faces every day.

Don't forget!

There are risk topics not detailed here that affect all businesses, including fire risk assessmenthealth and safety policy and people management.

We also recommend that you take the time to read our advice about business continuity. Issues like inaccessible premises and supply chain failure can be very damaging for wholesalers and retailers.

Arson and vandalism

Since your wholesale or retail business is likely to be situated and signposted so that customers can easily find and access the premises, it can be more vulnerable to the risk of criminal damage.

Waste, goods and other items stored outside of your buildings are often an easy target for arsonists and vandals. Firms that don’t take the necessary precautions can often come to regret this when a fire, started outside, spreads inside and causes widespread destruction.

If external storage can't be avoided (particulary outside business hours), consider storing the items within a locked metal container, or change an open skip to an enclosed lockable one.

 

Burglary and shoplifting

The Home Office's Commercial Victimisation Survey highlights how much of a problem shoplifting can be for wholesale and retail businesses, with incidents accounting for two thirds of all reported crime affecting the sector. On top of this, since 2013, burglary rates have been on the rise and this could be due to the popularity of online shopping that has meant some businesses now need a standalone warehouse, either in addition to or instead of a physical retail space, and others have had to make additional stockroom space for 'click and collect' purchases. These locations can therefore be a very tempting proposition for burglars and security measures need to be up to the challenge.

We always recommend that stock and materials should only ever be brought onto premises when supplies have dwindled as this reduces the risk of massive losses should there be a fire - or if a thief were to find a method to get in and then out with the goods.

Besides avoiding stockpiling and/or removing theft-attractive items outside business hours, there should be a full range of complementary security measures that work together to deter and detect thieves and delay, if not deny, access to their target. This can therefore include:

Cash rooms and safes

It can be a very good idea to install a room specifically designed for secure storage of cash and change if your business handles significant quantities on a daily basis. This room should then contain safes designed for storing cash and change - it's important to be aware that not every safe is suitable for every situation.

There are various types of safe with a multitude of features to consider, such as the inclusion of a time lock (so the safe can't be opened during certain periods of time) or time delay (the door will only open after a pre-programmed period of time - alongside signs explaining this, the feature is intended to deter hold-ups). Alternatively or additionally, the safe could have a dual lock so two or more keys/combinations are required to open it (with one key/combination normally kept off-site by the person/firm who collects the deposited cash within the safe).

Ideally, cash safes in wholesale and retail premises where various employees may be responsible for moving cash to the safe, regardless of the supplementary features, should be designed to allow cash and small items to be 'posted' without a key/combination (the key/combination holder normally being elsewhere). The design of the safe should be such that the level of attack protection around the post opening is to the same level of resistance as the rest of the safe, i.e. it is not a weak point.

 

Cold storage

Depending on the stock or materials involved in your operations, you may need units that maintain a low temperature to store items that would otherwise perish or deterioriate and become unsaleable and/or unusable.

The temperature within these units needs to be checked on a daily basis and regular maintenance and inspections carried out to ensure they continue functioning as needed. Where food and drink or another type of consumable (e.g. presciption medicine) must be kept at a particular temperature, failing to maintain that temperature (and not realising or not taking appropriate action) can result in poisoning, which may be an even more expensive outcome than disposal.

An additional hazard to consider in and around cold storage is slips and trips, which can come about due to leaks or slippery floor surfaces. Where the unit is a 'walk-in' type, there must be safety features that ensure anyone inside can get out, or at least raise an alarm, should they be shut in. For this reason, lone working should not be permitted where the work involves cold stores. Employees working in and around cold storage, for example stocking the 'fresh' aisle of a food shop, must be provided with appropaite personal protective equipment and clothing to prevent ill effects, such as frostbite.

Detailed guidance in relation to premises with temperature-controlled storage (TCS), including advice on the "accidental lock-in" hazard, can be found in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publication 'Warehouse and storage: A guide to health and safety' (HSG76) from page 125 (of the second edition).

 

Emergency procedures

There are a variety of scenarios that can make it necessary for emergency action and/or evacuation to be carried out for health and safety purposes, and in wholesale and retail premises this can be made more complex by the presence of customers on the site. Examples of such scenarios include fire, power cuts, medical emergencies, entrapment in elevators/lifts and a release of hazardous substances.

Key matters relating to emergency procedures should be picked up by your fire risk assessments and health and safety risk assessments and included in the health and safety policy for the premises.

 

Employee theft

Theft by employees can, unfortunately, be a key issue for wholesalers and retailers. Staff may have access to cash, either through transactions with customers or while transferring it to a safe or the bank, as well as alternative exits which might not have as many security features as the public doors.

Performing random and/or regular spot-checks (as laid out within their employment contract) and CCTV in staff-only areas can act as a deterrent as well as a way of identifying a culprit if there are suspicions of employee theft. Similarly, counting the cash in and out of registers and keeping records of who was manning it (e.g. by requiring them to log in with their unique credentials) can put individuals off the idea.

When developing your security systems, however much you trust each of your employees, factor in the methods that could be used to remove cash and theft-attractive items without detection, and eliminate the 'weak points', such as unprotected staff-only entrances and exits.

 

Flammables and explosives

The nature of your stock will play a large part in setting the odds of a fire or explosion within your premises. For example, the propellant gases used in aerosol cans today are often flammable gases (typically a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)) which, if accidentally released inside a building, have the potential to form an explosive mixture within the air. As well as the propellant, the product in the can may be a flammable liquid. Another type of product to take care with is oil seeds and oil-based products (e.g. vegetable oil, paints, varnishes) as they can have the potential to spontaneously combust.

Wherever flammable or explosive products and materials are stored or used, hazards that could lead to ignition, such as a rise in temperature, naked flames and vehicle impact, need to be controlled, if not eliminated. The interpretation and application of, and compliance with, the 'zoning' requirements of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) can be complicated so the relevant risk assessments must be completed by a competent person with appropriate knowledge and relevant experience and training. 

An added risk to consider in some warehouses is the presence of 'high intensity discharge' (HID) lamps. These lamps can operate at high internal temperatures and pressures and the bulbs may sometimes shatter explosively or break due to being knocked, leading to hot glass and bulb components falling or being propelled toward people or combustible items.

Consequently, if you have HID lighting in any part of your premises, the lamps need to have suitable fire resistant, non-combustible housings and they shouldn't be in any area where they might be prone to damage (e.g. from a lift truck).

 

Flooding

Your premises don't necessarily need to be near to a river, canal or other water source to be affected by flooding. Heavy rain combined with blocked drains and being at the bottom of a slope is just one scenario, while one that should be universally considered is the risk from the premises' own plumbing systems.

However it comes about, there will be various repercussions if the site is flooded or otherwise damaged by water, including business interruption as a consequence of the premises being inaccessible and/or destruction of stock and equipment.

 

Hold-ups and violence

The types of goods that you have on your premises will make a big difference to your chances of suffering a burglary or hold-up. Money, cigarettes and jewellery are favourites with thieves, but so are small high-tech electronic items such as smart phones and tablets, particularly the latest craze item or the newest model. Additionally, although card transactions are only increasing in popularity, there is still a huge amount of cash that passes through the retail trade and with it the risk of robbery/hold-ups and violence to employees.

Deterring or halting the progress of a threatening individual should be achieved by a comprehensive security system which, depending on the situation and level of risk, could include the employment or contracting of security guards and/or (amongst other measures) installation of:

 

Key security

How many sets of keys are there for your premises? Who holds them? Is it relatively to easy to get duplicates cut? You need to ask yourself some searching questions about the keys and locks protecting your premises, stock and cash not only when you first move in (when the locks need to be changed) but also when a key-holder leaves your employment or if there is an incident that highlights vulnerabilities.

Assessments of key security should be carried out on a regular basis to remain on top of processes that staff may have become complacent about (such as locking away keys in a cabinet designed for the purpose when not in use or outside business hours) and changes to the security levels needed.

 

Lift trucks

Lift trucks are a common cause of severe injuries in the wholesale and retail sector, usually because they collide with a pedestrian or structure like storage racking (which then collapses), or due to unstable loads falling.

In addition to the risks while lift trucks are being operated, the recharging of their batteries can pose a number of significant hazards, such as fire, explosion, electrocution and burns.

 

Lone working

Lone working should be avoided as much as possible, but we understand that for some roles this is difficult to avoid. Check that your health and safety risk assessments have properly considered the hazards to any employees who do work alone, including delivery drivers and anyone who might be in the premises alone or when there are very few people around (e.g. night workers).

At the end of a business day, there shouldn't be just one person locking up as they may be at greater risk of attack from thieves and/or if they're injured or fall ill suddenly they may be unable to call for help.

Be particularly cautious about any young persons and children who may work on their own, such as newspaper delivery boys and girls, as their inexperience can make them more vulnerable and they can be exposed to a number of significant hazards. Go to the 'Delivering Newspapers Safely' page on the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) website to find further guidance about risk assessments for this specific group of workers.

 

Loss of power or connectivity

The rising popularity of contactless payments is accelerating the decline of cash transactions, so much so that some businesses are choosing to only accept payments by card or online transfers. While this does reduce the chances of theft and hold-ups, and probably saves time (due to cash handling procedures not being necessary), if access to the internet is lost or the connection becomes weak, or if the power supply to the premises is disrupted, it can be very difficult to continue operating as usual.

If there's no back-up plan, customers are likely to face delays when completing their purchase; It may even be impossible to make transactions and potential customers might decide to go elsewhere, taking with them a poor impression of the business that reduces the likelihood of a return visit.

In addition to payment problems, a loss of power can make it unsafe to be on the premises (due to a lack of lighting, for example) and put stock at risk of deterioration if it needs to be kept at a specific temperature. Besides the threat of no or a weak connection to the internet, there's also cyber threats to consider, such as loss, corruption or theft of data or ransomware infections.

 

Manual handling

As the joint number one cause of 'over-7-day' injuries in the wholesale and retail industry (according to RIDDOR statistics from 2013/14 to 2017/2018; joint with slips and trips), it's clear that accidents while handling, lifting or carrying are something employers in the sector should be keeping tabs on.

Injuries due to manual handling, such as back pain, cuts, bruising and sprains, can come about from movements involved in a motion as simple as shifting a heavy box across a desk or lifting an awkward item from a checkout belt. Consequently, even employees who primarily work in customer services, as well as those on the shop floor and in warehouses, should be provided with training to ensure they know how to prevent injuries during manual handling. This training should happen when their employment starts, during induction training, and be reinforced by refresher training on a regular basis.

During training sessions, employees must be made aware of what appropriate equipment is available, and how to use it, so that, as much as possible, they can avoid manual handling tasks. This point tops the hierarchy of measures outlined by the Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) which imposes a duty to control the risk on employers.

 

Noise

Before, during and after business hours, a warehouse or shop can be a noisy environment. Noise doesn't even need to be loud to have a negative effect on someone's health; Prolonged exposure to the humming from refrigeration systems, for example, can cause annoyance which may lead to an inability to concentrate, difficulty getting to sleep, stress and high blood pressure, amongst other health problems.

Sources of potentially harmful noise which are commonly found in wholesale and retail premises include roll cages, checkout machines, air conditioning systems, music, human voices, vehicles and alarms.

 

Passive fire protection

Should a fire start in either your shop or warehouse, or any other part of your premises, built-in and/or retro-fitted features need to be in place to slow and limit its spread so all people have more than enough time to safely evacuate. For these features to work as effectively as intended, they should be supported by housekeeping, mainteance and inspection regimes.

As an example, if a fire starts in the delivery bay its path into the warehouse, shop, or any other area, should be prevented by fire-resisting doors and smoke held back by appropriate seals around the doors and other openings. If, however, a set of doors have been propped open and, in their haste to escape, no one closes them, smoke, heat, embers and ultimately flames can progress from room-to-room, reaching combustible goods and explosive substances and causing widespread destruction and putting lives at risk.

 

Racking and shelving

Racking in your warehouses needs to be fit for purpose, of a safe condition, properly installed and well maintained to prevent accidents which can cause serious injuries and even fatalities.

Signs, such as notes about weight limits, and markings like lines on the shelves to show the minimum distance from the edge an item can be safely placed are simple but effective starting points to prevent the structure from becoming unstable or objects falling from it. Racking systems should also be suitably protected against damage due to impacts from lift trucksroll cages and other vehicles or moving objects by the installation of barriers and guards and through effective site traffic management.

When carrying out risk assessments relating to a shelving or racking system, don't forget that the Work at Height Regulations (WAHR) will probably apply, even if machinery, such as a lift truck, is being used to reach items on high shelves. There can be a risk to anyone in the vicinity from falling objects while items are being shifted onto or off a shelf.

 

Roll cages and scissor lifts

Fully loaded, roll cages can be very heavy (some with capacities of up to 700kg) so you don't want one overbalancing and falling on you or any of your employees.

Workers who repetitively load, unload and manoeuvre loaded roll cages, especially up slopes, over steps or on uneven floor surfaces, can suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, such as muscle strains, if not properly trained or assisted. Another common cause of injury is entrapment of hands, feet and other parts of the body while assembling/ dismantling cages or moving them alongside a wall or vehicle.

Additional risk will be present if roll cages are used at height, for instance, on the tail lift of a delivery lorry during loading and unloading.

Where bulky and heavy loads need to be moved, scissor lifts can be good alternatives to roll cages, especially since they remove some of the manual handling hazards. Both scissor lifts and roll cages need to be factored into workplace transport risk assessments and inspected and maintained (as a piece of work equipment) regularly with employees trained in their safe use for each all permitted applications.

 

Road risks

Employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of workers, wherever it is they may be while completing tasks as part of their job role, and so this includes delivery drivers and other mobile employees. Failing to comply with this duty can result in prosecution as well as reputational damage, financial losses and personnel absence if one of your workers is involved in a road traffic accident while driving for work.

The following topics should all be considered to manage the risks to workers and other road users while on public roads for business purposes:

 

Site security

From underground tunnels, holes in walls and the dismantling of external brick walls, to ram raids and simple door and window entries – thieves have all sorts of techniques to enter your premises. For the thief, it's a matter of potential reward versus risk.

Vulnerable points and features they might target can include:

  • Shop-front doors and glazing - Install strong and resistant fixed glass, if not grilles and/or shutters.
  • Rear and side doors (wood) - Consider having these doors clad with 1.6mm steel sheet coach-bolted to the door and fitted with hinge bolts (an additional door hinge might be needed too, to take the extra weight).
  • Electrically operated rear unloading bay shutter door(s) - Check that the electrical power can be isolated at the end of the day and secured in the 'Off' position with a suitable padlock fitted to a lockable isolator switch.
  • Manual doors (not fire exits) - Check that suitable locks, bolts or padlocks fitted to at least two points, preferably internally.
  • Concertina type doors - Don’t rely on a single small lock which came with the door – they are easily forced open.
  • Rear windows (ground floor) - If not already protected (and not fire escape points), consider having installing steel bars.
  • Rear windows (first floor and higher) - These windows can be an option for entry if they're accessible from lower roofs or some other way, so you'll want defences in place, but if they might be used as a means of escape in the event of a fire only use grilles or shutters which can be easily and quickly manually opened from the inside without a key.
  • Floors/areas occupied by third parties - Don’t forget that parts of the building used by other occupiers are also potential entry points, particularly if they become unoccupied and/or if the division between your part of the premises and theirs is of lightweight construction, e.g. timber or plasterboard.
  • Roofs and skylights - Thieves don’t worry about health and safety legislation and often climb up on to roofs because the physical protections may be lighter, or even non-existent, higher up in a building. As much as possible, arrange your security systems, such as CCTV and intruder alarms, so they don't exclude the roof. Don’t forget, it may not be your building that the thief scales to reach your roof.

For the possibility that an intruder does manage to get in (and/or to manage the risk of a thief accessing 'staff only' areas during business hours), there are more precautions available to stop them getting to their target, such as security fog devices designed to work in conjunction with a remotely monitored intruder alarm.

Site traffic and deliveries

Eight workers in wholesale and retail businesses were killed in a five year period (from 2013/14 to 2017/18) due to colliding with a moving vehicle, making it the second leading cause of workplace fatalities in the sector (according to RIDDOR statistics). 11 deaths in the same time period were caused by being struck by a moving/flying/falling object and another seven were due to something collapsing/overturning; A significant amount of these incidents would've also involved workplace transport through impacting structures like storage racking or because of unstable loads.

Loading and unloading areas can be particularly dangerous. When assessing the associated risks, we highly recommend studying the "Loading dock safety guide" produced by the Freight Transport Association (FTA) Logistics Safety Working Group and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) Retail and Distribution Group. It gives detailed advice on possible control measures for the drive-away hazard, vehicle creep, load roll-away, trailer tip and loading dock water ingress.

 

Slips and trips

RIDDOR statistics show that slips and trips is the most common kind of accident in the wholesale and retail sector and shares first place (with manual handling) for 'over-7-day' injuries affecting employees.

Leaks from cold storage, ice on the floor in walk-in chillers, spillages and wet floors following cleaning or due to customers coming inside from rainy weather are all hazards frequently seen in wholesale and retail premises that can cause people to slip and fall. Stock, packaging and equipment left on floors and trailing cables (e.g. from vacuum cleaners) adds the risk of trips into the mix.

These incidents can be easily avoided by enforcing a housekeeping regime that employees are instructed about during induction and refresher training. As an example, all workers should know to never leave a spillage unattended and instead wait for assistance from a colleague so there's always at least one person present to prevent others accidentally stepping in it.

 

Toxic goods

If your business is involved with the same products and materials on a day-to-day basis, you'll have a good understanding of the property and the hazards that these items present. This may be more of a challenge if your stock lines change frequently, but it's equally as important that you're aware of the potential hazards.

It’s a fact of life that goods get damaged in transit, or whilst being handled or stored. If they contain flammable liquid and/or gas, or ingredients that are hazardous to health or harmful to the environment, a damaged item could place employees and customers at risk.

 

Waste management

Used packaging, expired or damaged goods, including food, and general waste mustn't be allowed to build up as it can quickly become a fire and health and safety hazard. Additionally, many wholesalers and retailers receive pressure from customers, legislators and environmental campaigners to reduce the levels of waste they generate, as seen by the enforcement of a ban on single-use plastic bags in recent years. A business that is seen as wasteful can face public backlash in the form of boycotts and protests.

To avoid reputational damage, as well as control the associated fire and health and safety hazards, your business should show that it takes the matter of waste reduction and recycling seriously. Ethical commitment can be demonstrated by the establishment of an environmental management system and public pledges to operate and develop sustainably.