Every day brings a new unprecedented problem, as we struggle with the realities of the coronavirus Covid-19 crisis. In the UK, one of the emblems of recent weeks has been empty supermarket shelves. As a result, retail workers are very much in the frontline of making sure that life remains as normal as possible. Sadly, there have been instances where tempers have flared, and retail workers have been verbally and physically assaulted. But as a recent sector report shows, numbers of violent crimes in the retail sector had already been trending upwards. In this blog, we’ll look in more detail at how violence can affect retail lone workers – and steps that employers can take to address it.
A snapshot of violent crime in the retail sector
Each year, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) surveys retailers to gauge the extent and impact of crime in the sector. The 2020 Retail Crime Survey report covers the 12-month period to 31 March 2019. Violence and abuse continue to be the top tier of crime types highlighted by the survey, as statistics continue to rise year-on-year. In 2019, just under 155,000 violent or threatening incidents were reported across the retail sector. This averages over 424 attacks on retail-sector staff each day of the year, up 9% year-on-year.
When dealing with the public, retail staff may be confronted with difficult and often violent situations. Sometimes, it’s premeditated use of violence to assist with theft. Such instances, including armed robbery, are often the most violent. In other cases, people respond with verbal abuse or violence to sales staff challenging their age. These are often required by law, such as the sale of alcohol or cigarettes – and often the perpetrator is already intoxicated.
Further complicating the picture, such incidents are generally under-reported. They are frequently dealt with internally within retail companies, rather than being reported to the police. In reality, therefore, the total figure for violent incidents is probably higher than the survey suggests. But there is an increasing trend towards more severe incidents. The BRC survey reports cases of violence becoming more grave and resulting in more serious injuries.
Safe Hub mitigates risks for retail lone workers
Retail lone workers can be particularly vulnerable to violence and armed robberies due to being seen as an easier target. In fact, assailants have often admitted targeting certain shops due to them being single-staffed. The ability to focus on a single employee means that they are more likely to be successful in getting away before the emergency services are alerted. For retail lone workers, the negative impact of violence on their mental health and wellbeing can be massive.
The surest way to protect retail lone workers is to implement a lone worker safety solution. With our Safe Hub system, Lone Worker Solutions offers comprehensive protection for retail lone workers. Whether it’s triggering a Red Alert for help in an emergency, or responding to automated welfare checks with Safe Check, the lone worker is in charge. We have a range of devices and apps which are ideally suited for retail lone workers. These include the sector-leading SOS Fob which can be worn prominently or discreetly thanks to its small size and range of accessories.
Reducing workplace violence in the retail sector more generally
Retail-sector employers have a huge responsibility to ensure their retail lone workers are kept safe during threatening incidents. By law, employers need to frequently assess employee safety policies and act on any areas that are recognised as dangerous. The BRC welcomed government promises to take action in dealing with retail sector violence. In the current climate, these measures need to be stepped up, given the pressures on retail distribution systems.
Longer-term, and beyond specific support for lone workers, there are several ways in which employers can improve general safety for retail lone workers:
• Provide compulsory training on managing conflict and dealing with difficult customers.
• Install more CCTV cameras.
• Encourage staff to report all assaults and incidents of violence or verbal abuse, no matter how small they may seem.
• Build close relationships with local emergency services.
We face a unique challenge to our daily lives with the emergency measures taken for Covid-19 containment. For workers in shops, and especially retail lone workers, this challenge needs to be made as easy as possible to deal with.
You can find the Retail Crime Survey 2020 at https://brc.org.uk/media/674208/crime-survey-2020.pdf. And below are links to some resources which you might find useful in the battle against the Covid-19 coronavirus.
Health & Safety Executive
World Health Organisation (WHO)
Contact Lone Worker Solutions and the Safe Hub team today to find out more about protecting retail lone workers.
Post by Rob Gilbert
Rob is Chief Sales Officer at Lone Worker Solutions (LWS). He is responsible for introducing new clients to the benefits of Safe Hub, and ensuring their experience is straightforward, simple and truly effective. His consultative, customer-focused approach means our clients have full access to every possible resource to achieve lasting, best-of-breed solutions and service excellence.