COVID-19: Alert Level 2 – starting the ‘new normal’ in the retail sector

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What is Alert Level 2?

Last week, the Prime Minister provided guidance on what Alert Level 2 will look like and today businesses will be pleased to be getting back to work in the ‘new normal’ as we move to Alert Level 2. However, many won’t have had much of an opportunity to consider the practicalities around a return to work. Here are some things you should make sure you consider before opening the doors.

What are the rules?

In summary, Alert Level 2 is still about ‘playing it safe’. Alert Level 2 sees a reduction in restrictions, including the removal of bubbles and re-opening of most businesses including malls, schools and hair salons. However, measures are still in place to track and stop any new transmission and stamp out any COVID-19 outbreaks. The detailed guidance can be found here.

The Government focus is for PCBUs to:

  • keep workers, contractors and customers with COVID-19 symptoms off the premises
  • maintain physical distancing
  • enable good hygiene practices
  • keep track of people who enter the premises.

WorkSafe has provided guidance on how to manage the transition to Alert Level 2. Persons conducting a business or undertaking (‘PCBUs’), including retail operators, should self-assess how they’re going to manage risks and protect workers, customers and the public, while implementing the required COVID-19 practices. Workers should be involved in completing this process in order to help assess risks and identify solutions. This will also assist to alleviate concerns about personal safety when they return to work in the new environment.

Risks will include COVID-19 but also risks that now exist from being shut down for an extended period of time, for example, will air conditioning units require servicing/cleaning before being operated?

For the retail sector, Alert Level 2 means a large number of people are about to return to malls, shopping districts and stores across the country. WorkSafe has provided some specific guidance for the retail sector that builds on its ‘operating safely’ guidance. ShopCare, has also worked with a number of retail organisations, to produce protocols for working at Alert Level 2, which have been endorsed by WorkSafe.

Despite the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 outbreak and New Zealand’s response to it, retail operators (like all other businesses) need to follow their usual health and safety systems, with necessary COVID-19 modifications added on top. Before re-opening, businesses must have effective control plans in place to ensure that the risk of transmission is minimised and measures are in place to keep workers, customers and the wider public safe including undertaking an appropriate risk assessment. If you are concerned about your approach, review the information about what to consider as part of the planning process that has been prepared by WorkSafe.

Why is it important to apply the rules?

Apart from remaining part of a team of 5 million and working towards the elimination of COVID-19 in New Zealand, the way businesses approach to health and safety remains key. WorkSafe, as the regulator and watchdog, will be there to make sure businesses are taking the right steps to protect all from the risk of COVID-19.

We know that WorkSafe conducted random site assessments at Alert Level 3, and we expect inspectors to be even more proactive about checking sites at Alert Level 2. Evidence of this has already been seen under Alert Level 3 and the notices issued to fast food outlets for breaching physical distancing requirements. Make sure you are on top of the relevant guidance – it is the standard by which you will be assessed – and are implementing it to ensure you don’t find yourself in the news, as the fast food outlets did.

Ongoing review and monitoring

When you are back on site and have been operating for a few days, ask yourself some questions: For instance:

  • Are we keeping good contact tracing records?
  • Are the processes for ensuring physical distancing of our staff and customers working?
  • Are we doing enough to limit customers entering and exiting the store in order to manage physical distancing?
  • Have a look at high touch/shared surfaces (like doors, tables, EFTPOS terminals). Where are they? Are they as expected, or are other different areas a problem?
  • How are you communicating to workers any changes in cleaning/disinfecting that are required?
  • Have workers, contractors and customers taken on board your requests for physical distancing? Is there a better way to communicate with them that you can use?

As you will find, while returning to the ‘new normal’ may be an intimidating concept, the risks can be controlled with careful planning and good communication.

You mustn’t forget that the assessment of risk is an ongoing process. We expect that as Alert Level 2 progresses there will be amendments to the restrictions in place. To ensure that your business remains up-to-date with health and safety expectations, it will be important to keep on top of what changes are being made to the steps required.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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