Posted: 04/02/2021

Could your business be more COVID-safe?

As we approach one year of living and working with COVID, what more can we do to tackle the virus and make our businesses more COVID-safe?

As coronavirus hit in early 2020, independents were some of the first businesses to react and introduce preventive measures, positioning themselves as safer than supermarkets, and this was borne out in a change in shoppers’ habits. But, according to one retail analyst, most retailers have “dropped off” and become complacent.

“I think the time comes when you need to call things out,” says Andrew Busby, founder SafePrem. “A lot of places have been paying lip service to COVID measures. The political thing to say is that retail is safe, but that’s not what is going to get everyone back to normal.”

So Busby launched SafePrem, a directory of lesser-known products and services to make retail spaces safer, developed the ‘SAFER’ journey, and is now lobbying the government to give businesses additional funding to utilise some novel anti-viral measures.

“The government are compensating businesses with furlough and rates holidays. What we are saying is rather than do that, why not use that money to provide grants to invest in some of this technology to make retail environments safe.”

Busby and SafePrem argue that technology such as anti-viral coatings for all touch-points, air-filtration systems and truly effective store-occupancy monitoring can mitigate the risk of the virus “to practically zero”.

But one retailer believes the current level of support is sufficient, and that his safety measures are effective. “I don’t think I would be convinced to be doing anything more than we already are – there’s not a product out there that I’m aware of that I would use – and I’d feel guilty asking the government for more money than we already have,” says Rob Copley, co-owner of Farmer Copleys in Pontefract and chair of the Farm Retail Association. “We’ve been pretty safe all the way through – certainly safer than the supermarkets. But what we have done is we’ve reinforced and upped our game in terms of customer compliance,” said the retailer. 

Not afraid of innovative COVID-safe kit, Copley has been using a fogging machine which deploys a fine mist of anti-viral disinfectant, a measure which testing and inspection company Bureau Veritas recommends in its new COVID-safe certification standard. 

“Fogging is an area that businesses should be considering to boost their COVID safety,” said Vicky Shah, retail and hospitality lead at the company. “Another area where there is often room for improvement is looking for symptoms more proactively in staff and customers.”

The business also recommends staffing bubbles in which the same staff members always work together, to minimise the spread of the virus, something which is already in place at Farmer Copleys.

“All the staff are working in groups of three who are on the till together, take lunch breaks together and so on,” said Copley. Proving the method’s effectiveness, one member of staff caught the virus, forcing his bubble to self-isolate, however, neither of the pair tested positive.

Despite this, Busby believes that these measures are not sufficient to see a return to normal any time soon. “These are a last line of defence,” he says, “the measures we have at the moment are restrictive and reactionary rather than being preventative and pro-active.”

He claims that the government’s strategy of waiting for the vaccine “seems like nonsense” with up to a third of the population claiming they will not accept the immunisation.

But costly investment in anti-viral technology seems unnecessary to Copley, whose COVID safety systems seem to be effective. “We have someone on the door ensuring store occupancy isn’t exceeded and who nips around every hour to sanitise all touch-points, we’ve still got our one-way system – and the customers feel safe,” said Copley.

“Our messaging on Facebook tries to get across that we’re real people who don’t want to take this virus home to our families, and it’s working.”

Whatever you’re doing to combat the spread of the virus, now – as cases are still rising – is the time to reflect on your policy and look for areas to improve.

“The point that crystallises people’s thinking,” says Busby, “is when I ask what would need to happen so that we no longer have to wear masks when we’re out shopping.

“We need a road map out of this.”

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