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This document is for employers in the retail sector. It provides an overview of recommended controls to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. It can also help workers and customers to understand the responsibilities of the sector to help protect them from the spread of COVID-19.

In all cases, guidance from local public health authorities and your jurisdictional OHS regulator must be followed. Cooperate with inspectors to safely accommodate their inspection activities.

Refer to current guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC): “Advice for essential retailers during COVID-19 pandemic”. The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) and other business associations can also provide a wealth of COVID-19 information resources.

For general COVID-19 prevention practices for both employers and workers, refer to the CCOHS COVID-19 Resources documents, including “Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19”, “COVID-19 Health and Safety Planning for Employers”, and “COVID-19 Prevention for Workers”.

Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible under the circumstances to protect the health and safety of your workers.

As retail establishments vary in size from small owner-operators to large businesses with many workers or multiple shifts, a variety of tips have been provided. Apply the ones that best fit your workplace.

Consider the Risks

Each workplace is unique. Employers need to perform a COVID-19 risk assessment for their specific workplace, job roles, and activities (routine tasks and in-person interactions). Examples of areas for the retail sector to review include: assisting customers on the sales floor, change rooms, payment transactions, customer service (returns and exchanges, complaints), technical support services, curbside pick-up, delivery, worker facilities (check-in, locker rooms, washrooms, breakrooms, offices), warehousing (shipping and receiving, material handling), and store maintenance activities (product facing and restocking, cleaning, fixture repairs, etc.).

The risk of COVID-19 transmission is increased with close proximity (less than 2 metres) and in-person interactions (close-range conversations, touching), generation of respiratory droplets (when speaking, coughing, sneezing, singing, shouting, and during strenuous activities that increase breath rate), crowded or closed spaces with poor ventilation, inadequate personal hygiene practices or facilities, and contaminated surfaces (fomites). Risk of transmission increases further when several of these risk factors are present in the same setting.

Once the risks have been identified and evaluated, the employer must implement appropriate hazard controls using the hierarchy of controls (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering, administrative, personal protective equipment), including multiple personal preventive practices in a layered approach. Consider implementing a workplace safety plan to identify and implement solutions for COVID-19 associated risks. The plan should address as many aspects as possible in priority order.

When implementing new COVID-19 control measures, assess the potential impacts to existing infrastructure, activities, and worker or customer safety. Make sure you do not create new workplace hazards. Update existing policies and procedures as needed to incorporate COVID-19 risks and control measures. Continue to evaluate how effective the controls are and make changes if needed.

Here are example questions that can be asked to help you identify COVID-19 risk factors and appropriate controls for your workplace:

  • What are the main work zones, job roles, and routine activities?
  • Where and when do workers interact with other people while working?
  • How close are the interactions? Do they need to be close for certain job tasks (i.e., when and where is physical distancing not possible)? The risk of transmission increases with close and frequent contact.
  • How long are the interactions? Evidence indicates that spread is more likely with prolonged contact.
  • How crowded is the workplace? The risk of spread increases when people gather.
  • Do workers stay at one workstation or do they travel throughout the building?
  • Are workers sharing vehicles? (e.g., outside-sales representatives in company vehicles, or warehouse staff using forklifts and walkies)?
  • Are there indoor ventilation and cooling systems? Is indoor ventilation sufficient? Poor ventilation in closed spaces can result in accumulation of virus particles.
  • Do workers and customers have easy access to personal hygiene facilities (e.g., toilets, running water, soap, and hand sanitizer)?
  • How are equipment and tools used in the workplace? Are they shared between people?
  • How often and by which method are surfaces and objects cleaned and disinfected? Have the selected disinfectant products been assessed for effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus, and for potential chemical hazards to workers and customers?
  • Do workers and customers have the knowledge and resources they need to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19?
  • Could language barriers impact the ability of workers and customers to understand and follow the transmission control measures?
  • Are there social factors that could make control measures more difficult to implement?
  • Are you able to assess if a person may be sick or have been exposed, and rapidly take appropriate actions?
  • Are sick leave policies adequate to support worker isolation and quarantine?

Control Measures

Elimination (including Substitution)

These types of controls eliminate exposures at the workplace:

  • Workers whose jobs can be performed remotely should work from home e.g., office and support staff not directly involved in on-site activities.
  • Use remote communication technologies such as video/teleconferencing when possible.
  • Some services may need to be temporarily unavailable if they cannot be performed safely or are prohibited by a jurisdictional lockdown (e.g., in-store shopping).

Engineering Controls

These types of controls use physical infrastructure to reduce workplace exposure. They rely on good design and maintenance to be fully effective.

Physical Barriers

  • Install appropriately sized and positioned barriers where physical distancing of at least 2 metres between people cannot always be maintained, e.g., at sales registers and drive-thru service windows.
  • Barriers should block respiratory droplets, extend above head height, and allow free and safe movement of the person within their enclosed zone. Refer to local public health guidance for detailed instructions on barrier design and installation.
  • Use plexiglass, plastic curtains, or other impermeable materials that are durable and easy to clean and disinfect.
  • Guide pedestrian traffic and queues using lane barriers. Each lane should be spaced to ensure that individuals are at least 2 metres apart in all directions.


Poor ventilation has been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks by allowing the accumulation and transmission of virus-containing aerosols in indoor spaces. Continually ventilating indoor spaces will dilute and replace the potentially contaminated air. Make sure that:

  • Any indoor work is conducted in a space that is well ventilated.
  • A licenced heating ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) expert is consulted before making any physical or setting alterations.
  • Existing indoor air quality requirements are not compromised.
  • Stale indoor and vehicle cabin air is not continually re-circulated.
  • Exhaust fans are fully functional, operating at maximum capacity, and remain on.
  • Air circulation or cooling fans are not directing air flow from person to person. Fans should be directed towards unoccupied corners or walls above peoples’ head height. Avoid high speed settings. Ceiling fans should also be run at low speed and in the reverse flow direction so that air is pulled up toward the ceiling.
  • Other ways can be used to help keep workspaces cool, such as shutting off heat generating equipment when not in use or allowing fewer people into closed spaces at one time.

For additional detailed information on ventilation, please refer to the Government of Canada website “COVID-19: Guidance on indoor ventilation during the pandemic” and the CCOHS document “COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Ventilation”.

Other Engineering Controls

  • Install enough handwashing stations and hand sanitizer dispensers to ensure easy access for all persons who enter the workplace and customer retail areas.
  • Reduce the number of touchpoints needed to access buildings and services:
    • Replace round doorknobs with handles and push-plates that can be operated using wrists or elbows. Install automatic doors or prop non-fire doors open. Be careful not to create new hazards (tripping or fire).
    • Install automatic touch-free lighting, water taps, sanitizer dispensers, toilet flush levers, paper towel dispensers, and waste bins.
    • Use contactless bill payment methods, such as debit or credit card tap, wireless phone payment, or e-transfers.
    • Use touch-free methods for workers to clock in, such as electronic key cards, messaging/e-mail, or roll call by a supervisor.
  • Replace soft surfaces (carpets, seating) with hard surfaces (tile, wood, metal, plastic) that are easier to clean and disinfect.
  • Remove materials that cannot be easily cleaned such as sales flyers, demo and sample items, children’s play area toys, and complimentary food and beverage stations.
  • Consider removing customer access to touchscreens or computer terminals (e.g., stock and price-check units), where cleaning and disinfection cannot be monitored.
  • Lower the store music volume to allow people to speak quietly without shouting (which can spread respiratory droplets long distances).
  • Reassign room usage to provide more space. Use larger well-ventilated rooms or outdoor spaces (weather permitting) for meetings, breaks, and team activities. Rearrange, remove, or block-off extra workstations and furniture.
  • Restrict people from entering zones they do not perform work in or need access to (does not apply in emergency situations). Secure doors and gates if needed.
  • Establish one-way walking routes in corridors and stairways to minimize cross traffic.
  • Use signs and floor markings (at least 2 metres apart in all directions) to indicate where people should stand and walk. Mark outdoor queue spaces with weather resistant materials. Check local by-laws before installing a temporary shelter over the queue.

Administrative Controls

These types of controls reduce risk through policies, procedures, and training. They rely on personnel management and compliance to be fully effective.

COVID-19 Safety Plan

A written COVID-19 safety plan may be legally required by the jurisdiction in which you operate. It may need to be posted, and available upon request from an inspector. Refer to your jurisdiction for instructions on what must be included in the plan.

It is recommended that the plan:

  • Be specific to the workplace infrastructure, activities, and job roles.
  • Lists all of the controls implemented to protect workers and customers.
  • Outlines how to respond to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
  • Describes what to do if a person with COVID-19 requires emergency first-aid.
  • Considers what to do if large numbers of workers need to be isolated, quarantined, or will require medical care, e.g., personnel logistics and coverage for absent workers.
  • Be implemented and maintained by a designated administrator or committee.
  • Be reviewed and updated frequently to comply with evolving pandemic requirements.
  • Be communicated to supervisors and workers as part of their training.

Screening Process

  • Passive screening relies on workers to self-monitor and notify their employer if they feel sick or have possibly been exposed to COVID-19. For customers and others, self-screening could be prompted by a notice posted on the door, an automated phone message, or a website listing symptoms and entry restrictions.
  • Active screening requires the employer to ask workers questions about symptoms and potential exposure events before each work shift. For customers and others, active screening could be done by a worker posted at the store entrance, or over the phone.
  • Use a checklist from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) or your local public health authority.
  • Screening should be done for any workers, customers, inspectors, contractors, or other persons who may enter the workplace.
  • Record names, contact information, times, and locations. Make sure that privacy is protected, and that the information is stored and destroyed in a safe and secure manner. If requested, provide the information to the local public health authority to assist their contact tracing efforts.
  • Screen for potential exposure to COVID-19 in the past 14 days:
    • Recent travel (international or domestic)
    • Contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19
    • Community outbreaks
  • Screen for the most common symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If readily available and feasible, consider implementing routine rapid testing of all workers as an additional active screening measure. Consider how you will manage the response to a rapid test result.
  • Consider promoting use of the national COVID Alert App.

What to do if a person is symptomatic or exposed

  • If a customer does not pass the screening process, do not allow them into the retail establishment. Offer them alternative shopping methods (e.g., online, curbside pickup).
  • If a worker or other person in the workplace is identified as having symptoms, or has potentially been exposed to COVID-19:
    • Call 911 if symptoms are life-threatening.
    • Have them wear a mask (preferably a respirator or medical mask, if not available a well-constructed and well fitting non-medical mask).
    • Do not allow the worker to continue with their job tasks.
    • Make every effort to keep the worker isolated before sending them home.
    • To reduce community spread, discourage them from using public transit, taxi, or rideshare.
    • Suggest that the worker stay home (or return home) and contact their health care provider or local public health authority if they develop symptoms or symptoms worsen.
    • Clean and disinfect any surfaces the person may have touched.
  • Develop procedures for contacting local public health authorities for further advice in the event of a positive COVID-19 case.
  • If the case is work-related involving a worker, additional notifications may be required. Contact your jurisdictional OHS regulator and worker compensation board for guidance. Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.

Physical Distancing

  • Implement and enforce a physical distancing policy for all areas of the workplace.
  • Keep essential in-person interactions few, brief, and from the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres).
  • Workers should minimize non-essential in-person interactions with people from outside of their immediate household or work cohort.
  • Job tasks that require workers to be in close contact with others should be modified if possible.
  • Discourage direct physical contact such as hugs and handshakes.
  • If there are large numbers of workers or multiple work shifts, consider implementing a cohort system (dedicated teams of workers). Schedule the cohort to work, attend meetings and training, and take breaks together. Do not allow one cohort to mingle with another cohort group. The use of cohorts reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and helps with contact tracing if a positive COVID-19 case is found in the workplace.
  • Encourage workers to only work at one job location.
  • Discourage use of carpooling, public transit, and rideshare services.
  • Limit the number of persons gathered at one time, indoors and outdoors.
  • Discourage workers from congregating and crowding during breaks and shift-changes, including in outdoor break areas and weather shelters.
  • Do not exceed the occupancy limits set by your jurisdiction for retail establishments. Limits may be based on floorspace calculations, capacity percentages, or headcounts.
  • Assign a worker to control entry and monitor occupancy levels, (e.g., by noting entry and exit of customers, or by limiting the number of shopping carts or baskets available).
  • Once the retail occupancy limit is reached, allow entry of one new customer for each customer who leaves.
  • In order to serve more customers and reduce potential exposure time, consider limiting the time each customer may remain in the retail establishment For example, have customers book appointments for technical support services to reduce wait times, and discourage idle browsing.
  • Ask customers to choose one person from their immediate household to enter the retail establishment. Accommodate persons who must include dependents in their shopping activities, or who are accompanying a person for accessibility needs.
  • Promote alternate ways for customers to access goods and services, such as online shopping, home delivery, curbside pickup, pre-ordering or reservation of merchandise, and online customer service and technical support.
  • Set designated or assisted shopping hours for customers from vulnerable populations.
  • Plan for how people will maintain physical distance while evacuating or sheltering-in-place in the event of an emergency. There may be exceptions to distancing guidance, e.g., when providing emergency first aid or rescue.
  • Limit or reschedule visits to your workplace by external contractors and suppliers.
  • Methods of goods delivery may vary by supplier. Schedule stock deliveries during hours when there are less workers and customers present or arrange for curb-side pickup.

Good Hygiene Practices

  • Encourage frequent hand hygiene for all people in the workplace: when entering and leaving the store, before and after the work shift, touching shared items, handling merchandise, using equipment and tools, touching their face mask, handling food, using the washroom, etc.
  • Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or if not available use hand sanitizer (more than 60% alcohol-based). If hands are visibly dirty, they must be washed with soap and water.
  • Some customers may need additional supervision and help with hand hygiene (e.g., children).
  • Consider supplying individual hand-sanitizer containers to all workers.
  • Consider supplying disinfectant wipes near the shopping carts and baskets.
  • Reduce the need for customers to browse and touch products and store fixtures. If possible, ask them what they need so a staff member can assist them (e.g., selecting the correct size of clothing from a rack, or scooping and bagging bulk dry goods).
  • Limit the amount of overstock placed out on the sales floor to minimize contact, if backroom storage space allows.
  • Merchandise that has been tried on (clothing) or returned to customer service may need to be cleaned or quarantined for a time before returning it to the sales floor.
  • Extend or add flexibility to return policies and deadlines. Consider that some items may need to be final sale.
  • Provide clean shopping bags. If reusable shopping bags are permitted do not allow workers to handle them, ask customers to bag their own items.
  • Encourage contact-less payments. If cash is handled, make sure that workers are trained to use frequent hand hygiene after handling cash.
  • Suspend the use of customers reusable cups and travel mugs.
  • Do not allow workers to share personal protective equipment (PPE), uniforms, masks, or lunchroom eating utensils and glassware.
  • Do not share or serve food and beverages from communal containers; provide individually wrapped servings (e.g., food for meetings).
  • Discourage sharing of personal items such as cellphones, lighters, and water bottles.
  • Discourage singing and shouting, which can cause respiratory droplets to travel for long distances.
  • Provide laundry service for uniforms or require workers wear freshly cleaned uniforms or clothes for each shift. Clothes should be bagged and washed after each shift.
  • Remove communal coat storage areas. If they do not have lockers or desks, provide sealed bins or bags for workers to store their personal items, footwear, and clothing.

Cleaning and Disinfection

  • Make sure that all disinfectants used are effective against COVID-19. Refer to this Health Canada guidance for hard-surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers. Verify that selected products have a drug identification number (DIN) from Health Canada.
  • Follow the product manufacturers instructions for safe handling and effective use. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) if required.
  • Develop a cleaning and disinfection program, with schedules and checklists for each work and visitor area.
  • Clean shared worker spaces (office, lunchroom, washroom, etc.) at least once a day.
  • Make sure public washrooms (if open) are cleaned more frequently, have running water, and are stocked with soap, paper towels, and a plastic lined no-touch waste container.
  • Frequently touched-and-shared objects and surfaces should be disinfected multiple times a day or between each use by a customer or worker. Examples: shopping carts and baskets, product scoop handles, touchscreens, payment PIN-pads, checkout conveyors and countertops, cash registers, telephones, punch-clocks, lunchroom appliance buttons, etc.
  • Remind workers to also clean and disinfect personal devices such as cellphones.
  • Consider having a designated drop-off location for used shopping carts and baskets, to make sure that they are cleaned and disinfected for the next customer.
  • Clean and disinfect shared sales representative vehicles and warehouse forklifts between users (e.g., keys, steering wheel, gear shift, controls, vents, belts, seats, interior and exterior door handles, etc.).
  • Clean and disinfect shared sales representative vehicles and warehouse forklifts between users (e.g., keys, steering wheel, gear shift, controls, vents, belts, seats, interior and exterior door handles, etc.).
  • Refer to the CCOHS "Cleaning and Disinfecting" tip sheet for further guidance and examples of objects and surfaces.

Communication & Training

  • Use accessible formats (written, infographics, verbal) and language(s) appropriate to the audience to make sure they can understand the instructions.
  • Use multiple communication methods, such as posters, reminders from store greeters and sales staff, banners on e-mail and text advertising, websites and social media, etc. to inform and reassure customers about the COVID-19 control measures in your store.
  • Help customers to understand that protective measures are necessary, and that their shopping experience might be different than what they are used to or expecting. For example, wait times may be longer due to store capacity limits, masks might be required, and some products and services may be unavailable.
  • Remind customers to be considerate of workers and other customers. The employer is responsible for protecting workers from workplace violence and harassment, including verbal and physical abuse from customers.
  • Train all workers about COVID-19, including:
    • New and updated work practices and policies
    • What COVID-19 is and the common symptoms
    • What to do if they feel sick or may have been exposed
    • How the virus spreads
    • How to protect themselves and others by layering multiple hazard controls and personal preventive practices
    • Hygiene practices for safely handling cash payments
    • How to properly wear, handle, and care for their PPE and masks
    • How to safely use cleaning and disinfection chemicals (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System WHMIS)
    • How to stay informed about COVID-19 using reputable sources
    • The benefits of vaccination
  • Monitor compliance and repeat the communication and training as often as needed.
  • Encourage workers to report any COVID-19 concerns to their employer, supervisor, health and safety committee or representative, or union if present.
  • Ensure that managers and supervisors understand the risks, control measures, and policies. They must stay up to date on current legal requirements as the pandemic situation evolves.
  • Before they visit, communicate with external service providers about your COVID-19 controls, and also work with those services to assist with their COVID-19 precautions.

Human Resources Policies

  • Implement a mask wearing policy:
    • Follow the mask wearing requirements of your local public health agency and jurisdiction. Consider requiring that masks be worn at all times except when eating or drinking.
    • Make sure that wearing a mask does not create new hazards such as from entanglement (moving equipment) or flammability (open flame or sparks).
    • Non-medical masks are useful in reducing the spread of COVID-19 but are not considered to be personal protective equipment (PPE) as they do not meet regulated testing and certification standards. Continue to use PPE for existing occupational safety hazards and emergencies, as directed by applicable laws.
    • Update your existing heat-stress program, as mask-wearing may increase physiological stress during high-exertion tasks.
    • Masks must be well-constructed, well-fitting, and worn properly.
    • There is great variation in the quality of masks available from retail sources. Consider providing appropriate masks to workers and clients.
    • Refer to PHAC: COVID-19 mask use: Advice for community settings for further information and guidance.
  • Modify shift schedules to support both regular activities and COVID-19 control measures:
    • To reduce the potential daily exposure time of each worker, reduce the length of long shifts (e.g., 10+ hours), or rotate them to tasks that are not customer-facing.
    • Stagger workers’ arrival, departure, and break times to avoid crowding and mingling.
    • Schedule enough time throughout the shift for workers to complete their regular tasks safely, while also meeting physical distancing, personal hygiene, and cleaning-disinfection requirements (e.g., without rushing or cutting corners).
    • Adjust daily staff levels to have the fewest people in the workplace (or in each area of the workplace), while making sure tasks can be completed safely.
    • If there are fewer workers available, make sure essential roles such as trained supervisors, and first aid or emergency response team members are present on each shift. Make sure workers are trained to work safely including when replacing the duties of others.
    • Provide flexible scheduling options for workers to attend local vaccination clinic appointments, if these occur during work hours.
    • Provide scheduling and financial support for workers to attend local vaccination clinic appointments, if these occur during work hours.
    • Consider providing enough hours that workers do not need to work for multiple employment locations.
  • Adopt flexible leave policies that enable sick workers to stay home:
    • Communicate firmly that sick workers should not come to work.
    • Designate a process for sick workers to immediately notify their supervisor.
    • Provide support to workers who are off sick.
    • Do not penalize workers who must take leave to isolate or quarantine.
    • Give advances on future sick leave or consider allowing workers to donate sick time to each other.
    • Provide information on government economic support resources.
  • Consider workers who may require an accommodation (e.g., those at higher risk of severe disease or outcomes from contracting COVID-19 due to existing medical conditions).
  • Provide mental health support and resources.

It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.

For further information on COVID-19, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.

Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.

Document last updated April 26, 2021