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World Day for Safety and Health at Work

UN World Day for Safety and Health at Work calls attention to preventing accidents & diseases at work. Read how it is now relevant in retail sector.

Andrew Busby Andrew Busby

The annual UN World Day for Safety and Health at Work was created to help call attention to preventing accidents and diseases at work. And nowhere is this more relevant than in the retail sector.

Ordinarily, you would not think about your safety and health when walking into a retail store. In the past, it probably wasn’t top of your shopping list. But, in early 2020, all that changed with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Almost overnight you had to get used to queuing outside supermarkets, observe one-way systems, witness entire aisles of so-called “non-essential” items being cordoned off. Plastic screens were erected to come between you and the check-out staff, and everyone wore face coverings to protect each other. What were once friendly, welcoming places became more like fortresses.

Two years later, even as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, some of those measures still exist – and probably will for some time to come. Because, more than anything, everyone has made aware of the health risks which exist all around. And retail store staff is in the frontline of this, day in day out.

Retail store risks

But even before that, for the retail industry, UN World Day for Safety and Health at Work has an added poignancy. You might think that operating a checkout, or helping customers find the right product isn’t the most dangerous job in the world. However, violence and abuse towards retail workers is on the increase. According to the retail trade body, the British Retail Consortium there were on average 455 incidents a day in 2019, up 7% on the previous year.

Anecdotally, this increased during the pandemic as shop workers were required to encourage shoppers to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. This is being recognized by the UK government, with a report entitled, “Violence and abuse towards retail workers” being published in June 2021.

But it’s not merely violence or abuse or even Covid-19 that threatens the safety of retail workers, according to the United Nations. New and emerging occupational risks may be caused by technical innovation or by social or organizational change, such as:

  • New technologies and production processes, e.g., nanotechnology, biotechnology
  • New working conditions, e.g., higher workloads, work intensification from downsizing, poor conditions associated with migration for work, jobs in the informal economy
  • Emerging forms of employment, e.g., self-employment, outsourcing, temporary contracts.

So, when the item you’re looking for isn’t available, spare a thought for the store staff member standing in front of you; after all, they’re only trying to serve you.

But the good news is that technology is rapidly empowering those same store staff. They can be more knowledgeable when they are equipped with up-to date product and availability information. And digital transformation through the intelligent use of data means they will be more aware of customer needs and can create a better entire store experience.

Who knows, you might even look forward to the interaction with your favorite store staff as they become your trusted advisers. You wouldn’t want to abuse them now, would you?