Guest Column | August 19, 2021

How Essential Retail Is Ensuring Employee Safety Amid COVID-19 Uncertainty

By Shannon Flynn

COVID 19 Coronavirus Mask Wearer

With the delta variant causing COVID-19 case spikes in the United States and elsewhere, essential retail employees remain at risk. Ongoing research indicates that people can still spread and contract the virus even if vaccinated, although the overall risk of those things lowers in fully protected individuals.

Here are some things you can do to boost employee safety and help customers feel safer, too.

Reinstate Mask Usage

For a relatively brief period in the United States, public health guidance said that fully vaccinated people could go without masks — including retail workers. However, that changed when the delta variant became increasingly problematic.

For example, Target, Home Depot, and Lowe’s require all workers to wear masks again, while those at Kroger and Walmart must do so in high-risk areas. Putting these measures in place again also helps protect customers, since scientists have evidence that mask usage is a relatively simple way to reduce transmission.

Use Cleaning Automation Tech

Although research suggests COVID-19 transmission from surfaces is relatively low, most employers in the retail industry and elsewhere still follow strict cleaning protocols. Even if there’s a minor risk, scientists say the delta variant is more transmissible than previous types. Thus, it still makes sense to abide by the same cleaning standards that people adopted during the pandemic before the delta variant became a problem.

However, when humans engage in cleaning tasks, there are natural variations in how thoroughly the jobs get done. Plus, people must take care to dispose of used disinfectant wipes and similar products carefully to avoid furthering the spread. These challenges are why some retailers use robots that disinfect stores with ultraviolet light.

Invest In Wearable Tech

Statistics indicate there are about 200 job-based injuries and illnesses per workday in Pennsylvania per day. Numbers are likely even higher now due to the delta variant’s threat. However, even before the coronavirus became a problem, some employers had their teams use wearable technology. For example, some gadgets can track worker fatigue and recommend when they should take breaks.

Wearables can support social distancing, too. Pathfindr is one of the many companies that pivoted to focus on technology to help fight COVID-19. Users wear the brand’s products on lanyards and get automatic alerts when they are too close to team members. Such solutions can help people focus on their tasks without visually gauging whether they’re following social distancing protocols.

Implement Crowd-Monitoring Measures

Essential retail workers have enough responsibilities to manage without trying to control the number of customers in a store at any time. However, technology can help. Some stores have traffic light-style systems at their entrances. When the light is red, a barrier at the entrance engages that allows current shoppers to exit without letting new people enter before overall numbers reduce.

Other options measure the number of people in certain areas at a given time. They can then alert managers to enforce better social distancing. Such technology benefits everyone in the store, showing benefits beyond employee safety.

Measures For Essential Retail May Evolve

These are some of the current options used to protect staff members and customers from the persistent threat of COVID-19. However, as corporate, state, and national leaders continue assessing the virus, they may implement further precautions.

For example, in countries that are part of the European Union, vaccinated people get scannable codes that connect to national health department databases. They verify that a person has received their vaccinations. They currently only apply to some non-essential businesses, such as restaurants, in certain nations.

However, that's one example of a recent change in operating protocols meant to boost safety. People in the retail sector should stay abreast of developments like that one when considering future updates they might make to protect workers and shoppers.

About The Author

Shannon Flynn is a technology blogger who writes about AI and IT trends. She's also the Managing Editor of and freelances for sites like IoT for All, ChatbotNewsDaily, and more. Follow her on Medium or MuckRack to read more tech news.