Case of the mystery beer stack

Q What's the maximum safe stacking height for cases of beer?

A This is a tough question to answer because so much depends on the shape of the case, and to some extent the layout of your shop. Spacious, warehouse-type retail units may be able to justify higher displays than traditional, smaller shops, especially if the goods are merchandised on pallets.

We guess you're referring to flat, 24-packs of cans, which are more stable and brick-like than most other formats. The plastic shrink-wrap provides some welcome friction, which stops the slabs sliding around but can also be sticky, which means attempts to remove one case can sometimes dislodge the case immediately below.

It's clearly not good practice to stack slabs above head height - not just because of the injuries that could be caused if the stack was knocked over, but because a customer or member of staff might strain themselves when they tried to retrieve the pack.

If you have room - and not many off-licences do - you could try to stack slabs in an octagonal shape, which gradually tapers towards the top and, properly constructed, is pretty stable. Failing that, stack the beer in a neat brickwork style, with each layer at right angles to the one below, and don't have the top layer above shoulder height for a 5ft tall customer.

A collapse could badly injure staff or customers, and land you with a hefty fine. B&Q was recently ordered to pay £10,000, with almost £5,600 costs, after a 12-year-old boy was trapped (but thankfully not badly injured) when a 260kg display collapsed. B&Q admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Q Is there a law or a reason why you shouldn't work in an off-licence on your own after a certain time?

A It is not illegal for off-licence managers to ask staff aged over 18 to work alone in a shop at any time of the day or night.

Many drinks-store staff feel safer if they can work in teams of two or more as the night wears on - and it's obviously a sensible strategy if the shop is in an area where evenings are busy. But it has become increasingly common for off-licences to be single-manned as the specialist sector faces up to rising costs and falling sales.

Retail workers' union Usdaw summarises the position: "Unfortunately the legal situation is not straightforward," its guide to lone working states. "There is no general prohibition on lone working even where there are foreseeable risks.

"However, employers do have a duty to ensure the health and safety and welfare of any employee so far as is reasonably practicable.

"Where employees are required to work on their own, either in the workplace or outside, they should take account of the extra risks involved and make sure that they have systems in place to deal with these extra risks."

Usdaw adds: "The bottom line is that there is rarely any specific legal duty to avoid lone working, but where it is done employers should ensure that all foreseeable risks are identified and controlled as far as they can be.

"The exact solutions required in any particular situation will vary depending on the level of risk."

One such risk that could affect employees would be handling cash and dealing with the public, "where there is an increased risk of violence".