You didn’t necessarily think much about it before, but this spring you’ve probably noticed when you’ve received a smile from store staff.
“There is now a lot of discussion about employees returning to offices, but store workers have been at their workplace every day, offering a service with a smile even though they may have been worried about catching the virus. In this, they are much like our healthcare professionals: both want to serve and help others,” says Professor Kari Reijula from University of Helsinki’s Department of Public Health.
Store workers and retailers have been able to continue their service with a smile thanks to extensive safety measures employed to ensure both their occupational safety as well as the safety of customers in the stores.
“The trading sector has approached safety issues with respect. As an occupational health doctor, I have been pleased to see stores installing protective shields at checkouts, receipts being printed directly to the customers, and store employees wearing gloves. These are micro-level measures that are nonetheless important, and based on careful research,” says Professor Reijula.
According to Professor Reijula, the trustworthiness of the trading sector derives from values embedded deep within the Finnish society, which is the macro level on which general decisions and recommendations are made:
“Finns base their trust that everyone will be taken care of on this, whether it be healthcare or visiting a store. Finland’s actions against the coronavirus have been successful. One reason for this is that we are not only disciplined and able to make decisions but also that we trust that everyone is treated equally and fairly.”
Careful planning for store safety based on research
Ensuring safety at work has been central for K Group during the epidemic. According to Petri Käyhkö, Kesko’s Security Director, K Group began preparations at the beginning of the year. When news of the virus first broke out, K Group began gathering information from a wide variety of experts and making plans.
“First, we needed to establish a clear picture of what we were dealing with. We set up an in-house organisation for the purpose, which gathered expert information from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, the Finnish Food Authority, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, and the WHO,” says Käyhkö.
All employees and stores have since received instructions on how to operate, including hand hygiene and the correct way to cough or sneeze. It has also been critical to ensure that no one comes to work if they are feeling ill in any way. For K Group’s operations, one important measure was to keep logistics centre employees apart from other operations, to prevent potential exposure and ensure undisrupted deliveries. Many structural protective measures have also been employed at K-stores.
“We’ve installed protective shields at checkouts to prevent droplet transmission and plexiglas dividers and stickers on the floors to remind people of safe distances. Surfaces are cleaned regularly and more often than before,” says Käyhkö.
Instructions for customers and information on e.g. dedicated shopping hours for those most at risk have been shared at the stores, online and in social media channels.
Katriina Ahtee, Kesko’s Director of Wellbeing and Safety, is happy that the safety measures have proven very effective. Most K Group personnel have stayed healthy and there are no known cases of customers catching the virus while shopping.
“Of course the level of hygiene at our stores was already high, but we’ve taken it even higher. Current research suggests that the novel coronavirus does not remain contagious on surfaces for very long, and transmission via food or items has not been observed.”
Strong safety measures enable opening up society
After a difficult spring, Finland is slowly easing restrictions imposed to prevent the virus from spreading. A more open society requires further vigilance when it comes to safety measures. Return in consumer confidence is also important for the economy: shopping must be safe so that it will be safe and pleasant for customers to come in to the store. According to Petri Käyhkö, this has also been outlined in the report by the Exit Group of the Confederation of Finnish Industries.
Safety measures will continue in stores for the time being. According to Käyhkö, the measures will continue until there is an effective vaccine that has been widely distributed among the population. Our lives are now different, and the times demand self-discipline and vigilance from us all.
“All communities must constantly review the situation and be prepared to react. This is a careful balancing act also for K Group. By being sufficiently prepared and implementing measures on the right scale we can help keep the situation under control,” says Petri Käyhkö.
According to Professor Reijula, controlled easing in various sectors is a good thing, but companies must not forget occupational safety. Different sectors must be given as precise instructions as possible.
“There should be both general instructions as well as sector-specific instructions, and both must be observed. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Although it is demanding to follow instructions precisely, it is extremely important,” says Reijula.
So the safety shields will remain in place and constant cleaning will continue. Customers must also continue to follow instructions, and never visit the stores with even mild flu symptoms.
One key element is also ensuring the working capacity of personnel. According to Katriina Ahtee, this spring was tough for people working in logistics and the stores and especially for retailers who worked around the clock under immense pressure. K-Retailers' Association offers e.g. training for stress management for retailers, while managers and employees have been offered support throughout.
“All safety measures have been part of the emotional wellbeing of our personnel. If employees do not need to be worried, they can better serve customers.”
Kesko measures to ensure store safety
Strict compliance with instructions issued by authorities, tight collaboration with e.g. the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
- Increased cleaning: particular attention paid to cleaning door handles, buttons and touch screens.
- Signs, stickers and loudspeaker announcements at the stores to remind customers to maintain safe distances.
- Protective shields installed at checkouts, dividers installed at the end of the checkouts to remind people to maintain a safe distance also when packing up their groceries. Hand sanitiser available as soon as customers enter the store at all 1,200 K Group grocery stores.
- Dedicated shopping hours for people most at risk (not at all stores). A telephone service established for the elderly, helping them to e.g. order food online.
- Constant efforts to increase online grocery sales capacity. More pick-up and delivery services made available. Over 400 K-food stores now offering online sales of groceries.
- Card and contactless payment recommended at checkout. Many cash registers print receipts directly to the customer.
- Tongs and ladles replaced more often and hand sanitiser made available for those using them.