By Theron Vassiliou

With the retail industry facing mixed fortunes across the country, you can certainly forgive retailers for focusing on business areas that help the bottom line. When times are tough we revert to survival mode and business is certainly no exception to this rule. But this does raise the question of whether diverting attention to profits leaves retail businesses exposed elsewhere? In lean times you might immediately think of cutting out elements like employee benefits, extracurricular staff training, or restocking store resources.  While these items might appear non-essential to the running of your business, the truth of the matter is if you aren’t careful you could actually be putting your business and employees at risk. 

Letting things slip can expose retailers to potentially serious consequences that may have wider ramifications for reputation, sales growth and much more. An example of an area where retailers may find their business exposed is the duty of care owed to employees and members of the public. While high-risk businesses tend to understand their duty of care, it’s low-risk businesses that are often naïve. In actual fact retail businesses face risks on a day-to-day basis that may affect them much more than larger workplaces such as high customer numbers and staff turnover rates. Imagine if a customer had a cardiac arrest in store and your staff didn’t know how to perform CPR or have access to a defibrillator? What would happen in your workplace if a staff member slipped down a flight of stairs? It’s common for retail business owners to not know the answer to these questions and this represents a “ticking time bomb”. It’s not adequate enough to simply have a first aid kit tucked away on site; employees need to be first aid trained and ready to act.

First aid responsibilities for business owners have changed. Safe Work Australia has introduced a new Code of Practice which is currently being rolled out across most states and territories (with the exception of Victoria and Western Australia, however the Code could be adopted in the near future). The Code provides workplaces with a guideline for becoming “first aid ready” under the Work Health and Safety Act. What is startling however about the new Code is that St John has found only 35 per cent of employers even know it exists.

The unfortunate situation is that the retail sector is performing poorly compared to other industries when it comes to first aid. Nationally only six per cent of retail workplaces are first aid compliant. This means they are not providing their employees with access to adequate first aid training, first aid resources and first aid procedures and drills – the three core areas the new Code addresses. Across the board Australian workplaces are in a volatile place with only 13 per cent of all workplaces first aid compliant.

St John Ambulance Victoria has been working with leading Australian law firm Lander & Rogers to explore the consequences for businesses who are failing to meet their first aid obligations. While penalties vary in each state and territory, Lander & Rogers has advised that businesses risk significant financial liability and reputational damage and case law has also shown that fines and even prosecution are very real penalties. If you’re small or medium retail business, what will this mean to your bottom line? What are the knock-on effects? With only six per cent of retailers first aid compliant, this is an all too frightening reality.     

The benefits of a safe workplace are many and retail businesses should be thinking about how first aid can actually become an investment to your business. Aside from obvious improvements to physical safety, if your workplace is ticking all the correct first aid boxes this can reflect itself in happier employees, improved workplace culture and ultimately satisfied customers and increased sales. My advice for retail businesses owners is that you need to act now. Every employer should be striving for best practice when it comes to first aid and you should be regularly reviewing your first aid obligations and updating your kits and training accordingly. First aid on the retail shop floor is about saving lives, but it will also add immense value to your business.

Theron Vassiliou is the deputy CEO of St John Ambulance Victoria. St John has developed resources, including a risk assessment tool, for businesses to determine where they stand in terms of first aid readiness. Visit or call 1300 360 455  to find out more.