Safe queuing during COVID

BY Amy Towers
18 November 2020

Queuing is a potential major challenge for the retail sector, especially coming into Christmas. The challenge has been identified by retail businesses, shopping centres and health and safety regulators.

Most retailers are now well informed and understand public health directions and work health and safety requirements for ensuring a COVIDSafe environment for staff and customers. All retail businesses who are open, should have a COVIDSafe plan prepared and implemented and ensure they are applying the key principles to a COVIDSafe workplace. These key principles include:

  • Ensure physical distancing (1.5 metres)
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Implement appropriate cleaning and disinfecting measures
  • Keep good records and act quickly if staff become unwell
  • Avoid interactions in close spaces
  • Wear a face mask (a Victoria public health requirement).
    Important: there are a number of lawful excuses for not wearing face masks

In the lead up to the busy Christmas season, it is crucial retailers review their COVIDSafe Plans to ensure the control measures in place are adequate and continue to meet public health directions and work health and safety requirements. 

Queuing is a potential major challenge for retailers

While queuing may not present a challenge for retailers right now, there is a high probability it will present during the festive season, and retailers need to be prepared for this and ensure adequate queuing systems are in place, in order to meet public health and work health and safety requirements. In a recent ARA WHS Committee meeting, a guest speaker representing shopping centres explained that they had monitored customer queuing over the busy Mother’s Day period in NSW and QLD and identified challenges with queuing and meeting COVIDSafe requirements. This provides an indication of the challenges that are likely to present in the lead up to and during the Christmas season. For this shopping centre organisation, they have implemented a number of actions to tackle queuing challenges. Some of these actions include:

  • Preparing and communicating a bell curve on the best times for customers to visit the shopping centre.
  • Preparing and communicating a car park plan to assist customers identify the best places to park and avoid crowding.
  • Communicating with the retailers within their centres’ the review carried out on queuing.
  • Requesting all landlords to implement a queuing system via an app.
  • Requesting all landlords to prepare an individualised queuing plan and submit their plan to the shopping centre.

In addition to these controls, they are currently Investigating trading hours options, as a possible way to manage numbers coming into shopping centres.

A shared duty of care

It is important to note that for retail businesses operating in shopping centres or shopping malls, there will be situations where there is a shared duty of care between the shopping centre/mall and the retail business, an example is common areas where customers of a retail store may be queuing, and the common areas is under the management and control of the shopping centre. Where there is a shared duty of care in relation to a health and safety matter, such as COVID, the shopping centre and the retail business must consult, cooperate and coordinate their health and safety activities. An example of this was shared above, where the shopping centre consulted with all landlords on their review of queuing within their centres, and requested landlords to provide individualised queuing plans and implement a queuing system app.  The landlords cooperated by preparing and implementing the plans and app. 

Guidance on managing queuing for a COVID safe retail environment

Health and safety regulator guidance for the retail industry identifies queuing as a factor that needs to be considered and addressed by retailers to ensure a COVID safe retail environment.  

An overview of Safe Work Australia’s retail, supermarkets and shopping centres’ COVID guidance in relation to queuing is provided below:

  • Retail stores and supermarkets need to provide space for queuing outside the store with floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distancing.  
  • Shopping centres should communicate frequently with tenants to identify possible congestion points and to ensure their approaches complement other strategies across the centre.
  • Use signs and floor markings to identify 1.5 metres distance, particularly where customers queue such as at checkouts or service points. Staff could wear a badge as a visual reminder to themselves and customers of physical distancing requirements. 
  • Shopping centres should work with retailers to provide appropriate space for customer queues if they extend into a shopping centres’ common areas. 
  • In food courts, provide signage or ground markings (e.g. stickers or tape) to ensure that people can practise physical distancing while queuing, ordering, or waiting for food and beverage purchases. Also consider signage or markings on tables or benches to encourage people to leave the area once they have finished consuming their food or beverage.
  • Consider using personnel to monitor physical distancing and queueing measures where appropriate.

In addition to Safe Work Australia’s industry guidance on COVID, retailers are encouraged to access guidance material from their state/territory health and safety regulator to determine any additional expectations when it comes to queuing risk management controls.  Retailers are also encouraged to contact the relevant health and safety regulator to understand what advice and support is available to them in relation to preparing a COVIDSafe plan. For example, WorkSafe QLD are extending their IPAM project to include extending the IPAM and small business support service to assisting businesses with the development of their COVID Safe Plans.  WorkSafe Victoria offers small businesses access to the ‘occupational health and safety essentials programs’, where WorkSafe aligns a small business with an OHS Consultant.  This is a free service and small businesses can apply online via the WorkSafe Victoria website here.

Disclaimer
The material within this update is provided for general information and educational purposes in summary form on topics which are current when it is first published. The content does not constitute legal advice or recommendations and should not be relied upon as such.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Towers

Amy Towers is a Culture & Engagement Risk Expert, who helps senior managers and decision-makers identify their people and culture risks and enable positive practice. With 15 years’ experience solving complex people and workplace problems, Amy delivers the most practical worker engagement and culture risk management programs in Australia and New Zealand.

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