Employment Law Updates

Posted on: 8 June 2020

Retailers and social distancing – what does the latest guidance say?

by Nicholas Ostrowski

We all know what ‘the 2 metre’ rule is – how does that translate to retailers and what does the latest guidance say?

The Government (the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) published guidance on ‘Working Safely during Coronavirus (COVID-19)’ in late May.

This had specific guidance for shops and branches much of which is helpful and detailed.

However, one issue which has caused significant anxiety for retailers is the question of how many customers they should allow into their stores to ensure that their customers can maintain social distance?

The government guidance says that the following steps ‘will usually be needed’ in order to manage customers, visitors and contractors:

Defining the number of customers that can reasonably follow 2m social distancing within the store and any outdoor selling areas. Take into account total floorspace as well as likely pinch points and busy areas.

It further states:

“Shopping centres should take responsibility for regulating the number of customers in the centre and the queuing process in communal areas on behalf of their retail tenants.”

But what does that actually mean? How many people should a retailer allow into any particular store and how many customers will be able to reasonably follow 2m social distancing? If customers are going to congregate in a particular area how should that factor into the calculations?

The HSE has not published guidance on this issue for retailers and its guidance on ‘Working safely during the coronavirus outbreak – a short guide’ is not helpful on this issue nor does the guidance from the British Retail Consortium shed much light on the issue.

That hole has now been filled with detailed guidance commissioned by the High Streets Task Force and undertaken by the Institute of Place Management, Manchester Metropolitan University released on 4 June.

This guidance is detailed, scientific and academic. It considers retail space allocation, crowd science, and ergonomics and biomechanics and is based on a methodology for establishing occupancy levels for three town centre environments. The guidance sets out the minimum amount of square meters needed in order to adhere to social distancing measures in a given situation.

In summary, the guidance suggests that 

  • In typical high street store space (individual retailers under 500 square metres), each person requires 10m2 of dynamic space
  • Larger retailer or managed commercial space (individual retailers over 500 square metres or commercial space where a number of stores trade together): each person requires 11m2 of dynamic space
  • Public urban space: each person requires 12m2 of dynamic space

In order for retailers to demonstrate that they have followed best practice when developing risk assessments for opening up their stores they are well advised to consider this guidance in detail.

BEIS Govt guidance – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/shops-and-branches

HSE Guidance – https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/working-safely-during-coronavirus-outbreak.htm

BBRC Guidance – https://brc.org.uk/news/corporate-affairs/social-distancing-in-retail-stores-and-warehouses/

High Street Task Force guidance – https://www.highstreetstaskforce.org.uk/resources/details/?id=bc16b6bc-0ebb-4b7b-8df8-d8aa6b9a3a9f