Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Out-Law Guide 4 min. read

Health and safety obligations for retailers

Retailers are expected to protect anyone who enters their premises from harm, by removing or controlling risks to employees, volunteers, contractors or members of the public.

This guide was last updated in June 2015

Any employer has to ensure the health and safety of employees while they are at work, and of any third parties affected by their business, which includes visitors to a retail unit such as members of the public, volunteers and contractors, by taking all "reasonably practicable" steps to guard against any "reasonably foreseeable" risks.

Regular and carefully considered risk assessments are needed to identify these risks and allow employers, which will include retail businesses in this guide, to put the necessary measures in place to eliminate them – or mitigate them as far as possible.

Risk assessment

Risk assessment is the cornerstone to effective health and safety management. It should cover all significant hazards (anything that could cause harm) and risks, whether specifically covered by legislation or not.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises a five-step approach to risk assessment: 

  1. Identify hazards by determining how people can be harmed;
  2. Decide who might be harmed, and how – identify categories or groups of individuals with particular responsibilities or requirements;
  3. Evaluate these risks and decide on precautions. A risk or hazard should be removed, if possible. If this is not possible, steps should be taken to control or minimise the risk of any harm;
  4. Record and implement your findings; and
  5. Review and update the risk assessment.

More information on is available in the HSE guidance on risk assessment (5 page / 226KB PDF)

Only organisations with more than five employees must document this risk assessment, but it is good practice for any business to document the significant findings. This will provide valuable evidence of risk assessment procedures for any potential future investigation, and can also be shared with employees and other parties to give details of risks and measures to be followed.

Employees should be involved as much as possible in carrying out the risk assessments, to increase their understanding and involvement in the process.

The HSE has produced an online tool specifically for risk assessment in retail units.

Other requirements

Employers must ensure that: 

  • employees are provided with health checks appropriate to the risks that they face;
  • one or more "competent" people are appointed to help comply with health and safety regulations;
  • employees have access to emergency contact information;
  • employers cooperate and coordinate on health and safety issues with any third party sharing the workplace;
  • adequate training is provided, and the capabilities of employees assessed, before they are asked to undertake any task;
  • an HSE-approved poster is displayed on the premises, and employees are given an approved HSE booklet; and
  • appropriate first-aid arrangements are in place.


A retail business must immediately notify the relevant local authority of any work-related deaths, plus certain work-related injuries, diseases or near misses involving employees "by the most practicable means", followed by a report within 10 days. Certain injuries to members of the public and self-employed people must also be reported. Each local authority is likely to give details of how to submit a notification and report on its own website.

Keeping within the law

Failure to comply with health and safety laws is a criminal offence. However, if an employer can demonstrate that it took all reasonably practicable steps to guard against relevant risks, based on quality risk assessment, and can show that adopting any further measures against a particular risk would have been unreasonable in terms of time, money and effort, a court is likely to find that no offence has been committed.

Fire safety

Fire safety is not included directly in the main health and safety legislation, but is of course relevant to the safety of employees and third parties.

Any employer or person who owns, controls or manages premises must take reasonable steps to reduce risk from fire and ensure that people can safely escape.

Again, a risk assessment must be carried out, to identify risks and implement measures to prevent or reduce the risk from fire. This can be done as part of the general health and safety risk assessment.

Fire precautions include:

  • measures to reduce the risk of fire and of the spread of fire;
  • a means of escape and an assembly point, with signage if needed;
  • provision of fire extinguishers;
  • measures to detect fire and give warning;
  • training for employees on precautions and the use of fire extinguishers;
  • at least one “no smoking” sign on display.


A retail business must have insurance against liability for bodily injury or disease sustained by employees at work.

Public liability insurance is not legally required, but should be considered. This covers the cost of legal action and compensation claims by members of the public for injury or illness, or loss of or damage to property, incurred in the retail unit.

Construction work

If construction work is needed, new legal requirements covering site management and safety came into force in April 2015. The regulations give 'clients', meaning anyone for whom a construction project is carried out, a greater role while the work is carried out.

As a commercial firm, you must appoint a principal designer and principal contractor whenever any work involves more than one contractor - even where the work involved is very limited and over quickly. The scope of 'construction work' under the regulations is wide, covering everything from major infrastructure projects like HS2 to installing a new office shower. Those who get it wrong may face prosecution, with the potential for unlimited fines and even, in the case of individuals, imprisonment if convicted.

Civil liability

A breach of the health and safety laws does not in itself allow an injured party to claim for damages, but a retail business would be liable if:

  • a reasonable duty of care was owed to the injured party;
  • the duty of care was breached by an act amounting to negligence; and
  • the breach caused loss to the injured party.

For a claim to succeed, it would have to be shown that the loss came about as a result of the retail business's failure to take reasonable care.

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