241 retail employees are assaulted every day in the UK. How do we protect at risk workers?
Retail employees are an incredibly valuable part of our society. Not only do they make our every day lives easier by allowing us to shop on the go, but retail sales contribute to 20% of British GDP*.
In fact, there are an estimated 3 million people working in retail throughout the UK to deliver these much needed services.
Yet sadly, two surveys released last month reveal that a shocking number of retail workers are abused, threatened or physically assaulted on a regular basis. A survey by USDAW1 of 2,536 shop workers found that an alarming 241 employees are assaulted every single day. 52% of respondents had been verbally assaulted and 30% had been threatened in 2015 alone.
A second large scale survey by BRC2 found that there were 41 incidents of abuse per 1,000 employees in 2014/2015. 21 of these were violent and some even included the use of a weapon such as a knife or gun. And with many incidents going unreported, particularly in non-physical cases, accurate figures are likely to be much higher.
Luckily, the nature of the retail environment usually means implementing safety procedures, such as CCTV and panic buttons are the norm. Safety is generally taken seriously with an average cost of £3.1 million2 being spent on crime prevention per retailer every year.
But what if an employee is assaulted while working alone? Retail often relies on lone workers throughout the selling and distribution process. Shop floor members are regularly left alone for periods of time while co-workers are on lunch or cashing up in the office. If a shop is small or operates independently, it isn’t always practical to hire more staff to prevent others from working alone. But not only does lone working leave employees vulnerable to theft and difficult customers, it could also leave them unable to call for help.
Part time retail worker Ashleigh Rigden describes an incident where she was assaulted by a customer; “I was on my own on the shop floor and a man came in and asked my advice on shoes, but it was near the back of the shop so no one could see me. He put his arm around me and grabbed me to pull me closer. I didn’t know what to do or where I legally stood. It made me feel very uncomfortable.”
Like 15% of survey respondents* Ashleigh had not received any training on managing/defusing violence on the shop floor. She did not know how to react and the situation could have been much worse as a result. She also had no way to alert anyone, with the closest employee being preoccupied in the stock room upstairs. Luckily in this case, the manager came back to the shop floor and the man quickly left. But had they been gone any longer, the situation could have escalated.
So what should be done to prevent the severity of workplace abuse?
Here are a few of our suggestions;
- Compulsory training on managing and defusing difficult customers
- Encouragement to report all assaults no matter how small they may seem
- Building close relationships with local emergency services
- Implementation of a lone worker monitoring solution
StaySafe offer a lone worker monitoring solution that helps reduce the severity of workplace violence. If an employee is working alone and find themselves in any trouble, they are able to send a number of alerts to their employer. Employee location and safety status can be monitored through real-time GPS tracking, all of which can be viewed by the employer through an online Hub.