A roadmap for customer safety

17th Aug 2021

England may be at stage 4 of the Government’s roadmap to recovery, with many of the Covid restrictions having been removed; but that doesn’t mean that businesses can instantly snap back into pre-pandemic ways of working. Covid is still around and directors of businesses still have a legal duty of care to their people and their customers.

Quite frankly, the response to the easing of restrictions has been patchy and somewhat confusing. Why, for instance, has one supermarket removed the screens between self checkout stations but not those at the tills? The self-checkout stations still seem to be cleaned regularly, so if the risk assessment showed an ongoing risk of transmission why not leave the screens in place? Surely their retention would be a minimal cost to the supermarket whilst showing customers that their safety is of prime concern. As it is the impression left is that staff safety is more important than that of customers.

The key to understanding the reasoning behind moves such as this lies in the associated risk assessment. In its updated advice on moving to stage 4 the Government comments that: “Employers and others must continue to follow statutory health and safety requirements, conduct a risk assessment, and take reasonable steps to manage risks in their workplace or setting.”

Psychological safety

However, as risk assessments tend to concentrate on physical aspects of the workplace, they are only part of the story. Psychological safety is also important, especially so as people emerge from a time of restrictions and cautions. People need not only to be safe but also to feel safe.

It’s a point which can be well illustrated by a conversation overheard in a greengrocer’s shop recently. Training a new member of staff the owner commented that over the course of the pandemic people were served individually from behind a counter. Now that the shop had gone back to a more open layout, he said that there was a chance that people may need reassurance or time to get used to serving themselves. The instruction was therefore to drop everything should customers look confused or ask for help, even if that meant providing a full one-on-one service.

That owner understood the importance of providing psychological safety and reassurance to his customers. It’s a message which is being repeated in venues across the land, perhaps in suggesting that people may want to carry on wearing masks, in providing extra cleansing routines, or in being open to providing extra help when people need it. The road travelled over the past year has been steep and rocky. The roadmap to the future needs to be gentle and to put people first.

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