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Black Friday warning from IOSH

20 November 2018

BLACK FRIDAY, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, takes place on 23 November. Andrew Downie, Advice and Practice Business Partner at IOSH, has reflected on his time working as a retail manager and how events such as Black Friday can put employees - and customers - at risk.

While my time as a retail manager is recently behind me, the safety training that I received for the role still holds fast. The phrase ‘nothing we do is worth being harmed for…’ has resonated with me and even now occasionally pops into my head at the strangest of times. I don’t think there is a statement that more succinctly sums up what it feels like for employees to be on the retailing ‘front line’.

I know from experience that retail is a tough industry to work in. It can be dangerous at the best of times and none-more-so than on Black Friday, when there are high expectations among customers that they will be grabbing a bargain from a limited stock of products. Every year we hear of tragic incidents of people needlessly injured or – even worse – killed during this annual event. Ahead of Friday 23 November (Black Friday, 2018), it is worth reflecting on what employers can do to look after their staff at this time.

Ensuring the wellbeing of retail staff comes down to consultation, planning, communication…and having fun. 

First: consultation. By way of an example I’d like to look at queue-management as an analogy. You know that your staff will be in the ‘thick of it’. Taking the opportunity to call upon their expertise and experiences of trading in previous years pays dividends. They will know what worked well, what didn’t, and what was a total disaster. Consult with them. Allow them the opportunity to provide solutions that will directly have an impact and make their roles that much more efficient, enjoyable and, ultimately, safer. 

During times of exceptionally busy trading we had a problem with how customers queued at the checkouts – service-lines weren’t distinct, there was pushing in and squabbling, and the crowds meant that it was hard (if not impossible) to get around that part of the shop. Staff consultation resulted in the simple idea of a using a line on the floor. During busy periods staff made themselves available and held customers behind this line. The lines were managed, there were no arguments and no one got hurt.

Second: planning. Careful planning ensures many things. From a queue management perspective, for example, it provides clarity of who does what and when, and who is overseeing it. It has the added bonus of ensuring that shifts and rest periods are taken as relief staff step in and break-times aren’t cut short or forgotten about. Careful planning means that you can identify the key risks and mitigation steps which need to be taken. Planning on how the store will return to normal shouldn’t be neglected either. Black Friday trading is exceptional, but that doesn’t mean that it should go on forever. After the event there must be a point where it is business-as-usual and where normal standards of compliance return and are adhered to. 

Third: communication. This draws on the first two parts and glues them together. Staff not directly involved in the decision-making still need to be aware of the protocol. However, this should involve not only the staff but also the customers. This may seem like an unusual idea, but when you take the time to help customers understand what the plans are for that busy period, they shop with you, knowing what to expect. Perhaps a bit of amateur psychology, but maybe they arrive at your door a little less fired-up and ready to do ‘battle’? They come to you happy in the knowledge that they will be shopping in an organised and well-managed environment.

I mentioned having ‘fun’. It may seem contradictory and not at all appropriate for a busy trading period. The Fish! Philosophy demonstrates that such an approach can bring trust, teamwork, appreciation and accountability. It might be something as simple as sharing some sweets, getting a ‘Mexican Wave’ going in the queue or chatting with the customers about their visit to your store. I’m a strong advocate of this because it creates opportunities to diffuse tensions and customers appreciate that you are prepared, in control, and not overwhelmed by it all (at least not outwardly, anyway).

My opening statement was ‘nothing we do is worth being harmed for’. No top-of-the-range television or games console is worth someone being injured. Not on Black Friday. Not on any day. So while I hope retailers around the world have a profitable Black Friday, more importantly than that, I wish them a safe Black Friday.