Christmas comes early for most garden centres, with seasonal displays designed and delivered months before the December rush. Many retailers give their floorspace the full festive treatment, swapping summer stock for snow-sprinkled grottos, food markets and ice rinks.

But behind the winter magic, there are mammoth compliance considerations. Our garden centre experts share seven H&S essentials to ensure staff and shoppers safely enjoy the sparkle. 

1. Rethink customer routes and risks

Festive displays temporarily transform your store layout, changing how customers navigate the space. During the planning phase, assess your shop flow and floor activity with fresh eyes, considering potential bottlenecks, altered queuing patterns and opportunities for social distancing.  

Conduct a full risk assessment that pinpoints and prevents the inherent hazards of your project (from build to break down), including slips, trips and falls, improperly stacked merchandise, collisions and fire dangers.  

2. Take a safe approach to tool use   

Seasonal structures are essentially small-scale building projects that require a range of specialist tools, from nail guns to mitre saws. If budget allows, it’s wiser to outsource Christmas construction to dedicated suppliers, rather than take on potentially dangerous DIY.  

Any person operating tools on your site should be properly trained and use appropriate protective gear. This could include safety goggles, gloves, face shields, ear defenders and dust extraction systems. 

Tools should be kept in good condition and undergo regular visual checks for wear, tear and electrical hazards. Damaged items should be promptly replaced or repaired. 

3. Keep on top of COSHH requirements  

‘Tis the season of gold paint and glitter – but without correct COSHH protocols, creative materials can trigger health problems for your team. A Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) assessment identifies harmful materials – from industrial adhesives to specialist cleaning products – and evaluates their risks to the people exposed to them, helping you reduce their danger to ‘as low as is reasonably practicable’.

4. Train your team on safe manual handling

Manual handling covers everything from lifting and supporting a load through to pushing, pulling and carrying. While it’s a daily duty in most garden centres, hands-on seasonal scene dressing can involve workers taking on more demanding tasks. 

Training is key to preventing one-off accidents and cumulative injuries, so ensure employees are well versed in hazard recognition, risk appraisal and the safe use of lifting tools. For more tips, read our guide to safe lifting in garden centres.  

5. Avoiding risks from working at height 

The HSE defines work at height as ‘work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury’. So even standing on a chair to trim the tree counts. 

Working at height should always be avoided, but when there’s no other way to get the job done, it should be properly planned and organised, and carried out by employees trained in correct ladder use and safe systems of work for specialist equipment like access platforms, towers and lifts.  

6. Comply with CDM Regulations 

Any temporary structure – from Santa’s workshop to an outdoor nativity scene or ice rink – must comply with the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations (CDM 2015). The CDM regs outline the health and safety responsibilities of everyone involved in a construction project of any size. 

The good news? The regulations don’t require you to be an expert in construction compliance – but you do need to make suitable health and safety provisions for the duration of your project. Our CDM blog explains how.  

7. Ensure you’re still COVID-19 secure 

Any change to your store layout should signal a review of your COVID-19 control measures. Assess how seasonal offerings and events could increase crowding, queuing, foot traffic and vehicle movement – then adapt or bolster your existing safety programme to reduce transmission risks. Your checklist should include social distancing for staff and shoppers, hygiene control, safe counter sales systems and more. 

Southalls health and safety consultancy provides expert guidance and practical support for ongoing compliance requirements – from H&S audits and risk assessments to staff training and RIDDOR reporting. We also offer niche services to address your sector’s key safety priorities, including food hygiene, COSHH, workplace noise and DSEAR. Learn how we can make a difference to your business