Workplace safety is often treated as an afterthought by retail site owners. For many, it’s a matter of modifying the site to satisfy minimum requirements for environmental and health safety. However, retail operators have a lot to gain by following the principles of safe design from early planning stages to completion. Integrating these principles requires experience, critical thinking and initial investment, but they also make the workplace much safer and more productive in the long-run.

What Exactly is Safe Design?

We use the term “safe design” to describe the process of integrating safety principles into the site planning process. Rather than adjusting workplace operators or layout after the fact, this process encourages operators to take a proactive stance on prevention and mitigation. As building sciences and environmental consultants, ATC Group Services helps retail operators implement the core safe-design mindset in their site planning and design. We guide our clients through the key elements of workplace safety and provide smart, innovative and practical solutions.

Identifying Safety Risks for Retailers

Every commercial site has safety considerations they must address, and this is particularly true for retailers who frequently have customers walking around their property. The first step of any safe design process is to identify the potential risks associated with a planned building or product layout.

Common safety concerns for retailers include:

Displays and Product Accessibility

Most retail operators know that allowing customers to climb ladders to get their own products is not the best idea. Ensuring that merchandise and service representatives are accessible to customers is an essential design element for any retailer. The same applies to displayed merchandise, whether it’s a pyramids of cans or a complex arrangement hanging from above. Operators should consider the types of displays and product distribution they want in their store so they can plan for all possibilities.

Air and Water Quality

Many stores offer the use of restrooms and water fountains to customers, which are features that may be required by law depending on the size and location of the business. This means that both water and air quality are important considerations during construction and renovation of the building. Site owners should only use licensed professionals who are completely qualified to perform plumbing and ventilation services in a commercial environment. ATC offers air quality consulting and engineering services to help clients optimize their system’s performance and overall safety.

Security and Crime Prevention

Building security is another critical consideration that requires foresight and planning to properly execute. Seasoned retail operators know that minimizing inventory loss due to theft or other causes can make a big difference in long-term profitability. Establishing strong building security, including video surveillance and trained personnel, can help deter crime on the property and can help law enforcement resolve those that do occur.

Toxic Materials and Chemicals

Commercial properties usually have a variety of toxic materials and chemicals on the premises, which can create risks for employees and customers alike. A damaged bottle of drain cleaner or a device with a leaking battery are just two examples of potential toxin exposure from merchandise. Site owners also have to be mindful of how they store, use and dispose of cleaning solutions or other supplies with dangerous ingredients. These pervasive threats are the reasons ATC provides advanced environmental safety training services for employees handling industry-specific toxins, including asbestos, lead paint and mold.

Other Workplace Safety Considerations

Fire risks can present in unexpected places, which is why retailers need a plan for prevention as well as active management of ongoing threats. Extinguishers should be current on inspection and placed strategically throughout the store to ensure even accessibility. All managers and employees should also know how to help evacuate customers in a quick and orderly fashion if a fire does break out.

Safe design isn’t just about ensuring the safety of the products or structure, it also requires active management of store personnel. Employees should be fully trained and able to complete their responsibilities safely, which means the company’s leadership must design roles to accommodate employee ability. For example, workers with physical vulnerabilities shouldn’t be responsible for lifting heavy objects or similarly demanding tasks.

All workers should know how to do their jobs safely, whether they are helping customers access products or mopping the floor after hours. Successfully applying safe design to human resources can involve some trial-and-error, which is why employers should actively observe operations and request periodic feedback from their staff. Making it easy for workers to follow safety principles means they are more likely to adhere to these policies on a daily basis.

Use Safe Design to Cut Liability and Increase Productivity

Planning, designing and building a retail destination can be a monumental undertaking, even for a relatively small store. This complexity can discourage operators from fully implementing safe design principles in early stages, since they are reluctant to make the process even more difficult. However, an early investment in safety measures can significantly limit potential liability and make the store safer for everyone inside.

Retail owners don’t have to face all of these responsibilities on their own. As a comprehensive environmental consulting and engineering group, ATC Group Services maintains a diverse team of qualified professionals who can analyze, advise and implement safe design at every stage of the process. We work alongside our clients to help them determine what safety steps they should take to maximize value on their investment and adhere to all applicable legal regulations.