Danger in the Aisles – a Retailer’s Liability

Danger in the Aisles – a Retailer’s Liability

It’s an unfortunate fact that every year shoppers fall victim to accidents in shops, supermarkets, and shopping centres across the UK. Customers can slip, trip, or encounter dangerous conditions in store – and, indeed, recent history is not short of high-profile cases highlighting the need to keep the shopping environment as risk-free as possible.

So, how can you help your retail industry clients understand, manage and minimise in-store risks?

First of all, it’s important that those responsible for the retail environment – be they property owners, managing agents, or occupiers - understand that they have a duty to keep the property in a safe condition.  It’s important to stress that they can be held to be liable if they know of a danger and fail to eliminate it, or if they create hazards or know of a hazard and fail to take steps to avoid it.

With that in mind, retailers should take steps to manage their liabilities.  Amongst other things, that means obtaining regulatory permission to display, stock, and sell high-risk products, and ensure that safety instructions are provided with relevant products. This could include any product with manufacturer guidance to: ‘keep out of reach of children’.

In addition, conducting effective risk assessments and taking care to adhere to health and safety policies and procedures such as cleaning and housekeeping regimes is vital.  This discipline can prevent an accident taking place while also protecting against civil claims, reducing the risk of criminal prosecution, and defending your clients’ reputations.


In today’s busy retail environments, retailers take great care to ensure that their premises are as safe as possible for both customers and staff.  However, a variety of hazards remain omnipresent:

  • Children accessing higher risk products: Any product listed as ‘keep out of reach of children’ should be displayed accordingly.
  • Slip and trip hazards[i]:These include damp floors, including those left damp after cleaning, product and food spills, or simply from customers entering from the rain.  Trip hazards commonly include stock cages and products left in the aisles awaiting re-stocking, loose carpeting, and cracked flooring. Retailers should also consider inclement weather arrangements, particularly in winter months - for example reviewing gritting procedures in car parks and around store entrances.
  • Unstable displays:Unstable merchandising displays from overstocking or unsafe fitments may result in products falling from shelves.
  • Unsafe equipment or insufficient training: Accidents resulting from insufficient training or lack of supervision of new tools or equipment is a common problem for staff in the industry, particularly involving height equipment such as ladders.


For your retail industry clients the key is to take a proactive stance when it comes to managing health and safety risk.  Clearly that starts with thorough workplace risk assessment to understand what could cause harm, and who might be affected – and enable risk management.  As part of that process, retailers should ensure their suppliers have adequate product liability and recall insurance, and routinely check that higher-risk products are child proof.

But it is also important to foster a culture in which every employee plays a role in creating a safe environment.  That could include creating and maintaining a clear operations procedure manual and requiring employees to keep maintenance logs and report any dangerous conditions - and making sure that employees are trained in these procedures and that they are followed as a matter of routine.

Finally, it is important to realise that, despite their best efforts, most retailers are affected by in-store incidents at some point.  With this in mind, it is also advisable to have clear and robust procedures in place to properly investigate and respond to accidents and incidents affecting staff and members of the public — without unduly admitting liability in the process before the full facts are established.

Further guidance is available from the Health and Safety Executive.


[i] http://www.hse.gov.uk/retail/slips-and-trips.htmhttp://www.hse.gov.uk/retail/workplace-transport.htm


David Tate

Retail, Food & Beverage Practice Leader, Marsh UK & Ireland

Marsh ProBroker’s parent company

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