In Store Safety – The Importance of a Strong Safety Culture

Posted: 19 Mar, 2024.

89% of the 3 million workers employed across 300,000 retail outlets have experienced violence or abuse at work, according to research by the British Retail Consortium. This equates to over 850 incidents per day and more than one every minute in a typical 9-hour shopping day.

It’s unsurprising that 1 in 5 retail workers are considering leaving the industry with these shocking stats demonstrating that dealing with abuse has become part of the job. Almost half of retail workers feel unsafe at work with 63% feeling stressed or anxious about their shift. Embedding a strong safety culture is more important than ever for retailers to be able to reverse the trend of talent quitting the sector.

At certain points of the day, employees will be working in isolation or out of earshot of colleagues, which makes them more vulnerable to attack. Workers opening and closing stores may be particularly at risk, along with those responsible for handling cash and banking. Additionally, in their pursuit to enhance customer engagement and capitalise on sales potential, many retailers are transitioning their staff from behind the point of sale to the shop floor itself.

While this approach aims to foster a more interactive environment, the removal of a physical barrier also exposes employees to increased risks of abuse, aggression, and harassment. In this type of situation, retail stores are often not equipped with the means for staff to call for help. Even if fixed panic alarms are installed, they may not be accessible during the incident.

Staff may also face task-based risks where potential hazards arise from the very nature of the task being completed, such as working at height or manual handling. Ideally, steps will always be taken to mitigate the risk of accidents, but since it’s not possible to fully remove risks, it’s imperative that the employees involved have a means to access the right help and support, quickly and safely.

Duty of Care Within Retail

All employers have a responsibility and duty of care to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff, extending even to their commute to and from work. This duty is especially pertinent in the retail sector where the hours can be antisocial, with dark evenings and mornings, and quieter public transportation, offering less support in the event of an incident. It’s essential for employers to recognise that these factors significantly impact employee’s safety, wellbeing and willingness to come to work.

In retail, employees cover a wide age range, from the very young to the elderly, adding layers of vulnerability. This makes it even more crucial for employers to fulfil their duty of care.

For young teenagers entering the workforce, parents are likely to be more supportive of their role when given the protection they deserve, particularly for their commute. Similarly, adult children would feel more comfortable knowing that their older parents are well-protected while working in retail.

Therefore in order to attract and retain talent, employers must prioritise providing comprehensive protection not only within the workplace but also throughout their employees’ journeys to and from work. This entails fostering awareness among colleagues about potential workplace dangers and equipping them with the necessary skills and resources to mitigate risks to their personal safety and wellbeing, both on-site and during their commutes.

How to Create a Strong Safety Culture

A strong safety culture not only safeguards individuals from potential hazards but also cultivates an environment of trust, and can lay the foundation for business success in an increasingly competitive market. Here is our advice for how you can create a strong safety culture:

Implement Employee Training

In conjunction with the necessary training to do the job, retailers should empower their workforce with additional skills to confidently navigate potential risks. These skills are especially crucial for retail staff when faced with angry and abusive customers, or the increasing threat of organised shoplifting.

While retailers retain the right to detain shoplifters, many opt for a “non-apprehend” approach to reduce risks to staff. So, training programs should focus on empowering employees to handle situations effectively rather than confronting criminals. This includes de-escalation techniques, dynamic risk assessments and how to call for help in an incident. These skills enable employees to identify potential hazards and respond safely in challenging situations. This approach not only raises awareness of workplace dangers but also equips employees with the skills and resources needed to mitigate these risks effectively.

Encourage Open Communication

Research by the Retail Trust found that despite 90% of retail workers facing abuse at work, 24% revealed they did not report incidents to managers because they didn’t feel anyone would help. This highlights the critical need for an open channel of communication within the workplace, as if incidents go unreported, they cannot be addressed.

To tackle this, management should actively encourage employees to provide feedback and share new ideas on how to improve staff safety. Implementing a formal, potentially anonymous, process that is widely promoted will help to generate contributions. When employees feel empowered to voice their concerns and share their experiences, it enhances overall safety while also promoting a sense of ownership and accountability.

By actively asking for feedback from employees at all levels, management can gain valuable insights into potential hazards that may otherwise go unreported and unnoticed. Additionally, frontline staff who interact directly with customers and handle day-to-day operations often have unique perspectives on risks that can inform safety protocols.

Stand up Against Staff Abuse and Harassment

Maintaining a safe and supportive work environment also involves a zero-tolerance policy towards any form of abuse or harassment directed at staff. Clear guidelines should be established, communicated, and strictly enforced to ensure that all employees feel protected against any kind of mistreatment and supported in the event of an incident.

By condemning such behaviour and addressing any reported incidents, management can send a strong message that the mistreatment of staff is unacceptable and will be met with serious consequences. This further helps to create an environment where everyone feels safe to speak up and intervene if they witness inappropriate behaviour.

Utilise Visible Deterrents

Implement signage to clearly communicate the protective measures in place for staff, utilising stickers or signs positioned in shop windows and throughout the store. Reminders stating that customers are being recorded and that abuse towards staff won’t be tolerated can serve as a powerful deterrent against potential threats.

In addition to these measures, retailers often invest heavily in physical security and manned guarding, yet the effectiveness of these methods can be limited. Security guards may be inexperienced, and with intermittent physical presence due to breaks, there are often gaps in security that criminals exploit. Given these issues and the shortage of security staff, retailers should explore technological solutions to enhance in-store security and deter criminal behaviour in store.

Body worn cameras worn by staff are a prime example of such technology, proven to reduce incidents of abuse and assault by 47%. Already adopted by retailers such as Lidl, Boots, and Tesco, these cameras are becoming more widely utilised across the industry and have proven useful in collecting crucial evidence to be used in the event of a dispute or incident.

These steps send a clear message to potential offenders that your organisation takes safety seriously, but also reassures customers and employees that their safety and wellbeing are a top priority. They can also be used to empower individuals to remain vigilant, report any suspicious activity, and take appropriate actions to mitigate risks.

Leveraging technology not only enhances security but also offers a cost-effective solution compared to security personnel. For example, one manned guard for a week may cost the same as having five personal safety devices for a year. This underscores the value of technology in providing efficient and affordable security alternatives.

Introduce Personal Safety Technology

Personal safety technology can help whether your staff face targeted abuse, harassment, stalking or domestic abuse. Retailers can tackle the issue of colleague safety and crime risk by providing dedicated personal safety devices and app technology.

With this service, retail workers can respond to incidents of violence or abuse by activating the SOS Alarm function. Peoplesafe’s specialised control centre triages every alarm to support colleagues while filtering false alarms from being passed on to the emergency services. When needed, the situation is escalated to appropriate contacts and a guaranteed Level 1 police response is summoned via the use of a URN (Unique Reference Number).

This solution stands out as a superior alternative to the conventional approach adopted by retailers. Stores typically rely on fixed panic alarms with no audio, only sending a silent alarm to the police. Unfortunately, this can lead to misuse and false alarms, risking the loss of URN access for three months. Reapplication is time-consuming and can be costly as employers must implement a different security solution in the interim. With the Peoplesafe solution, we retain responsibility for the URN, something we have never lost as we meticulously triage alarms and only report genuine incidents to the police.

Recording incidents of abuse or threats also offers significant benefits. These audio recordings can prevent potential litigation or strengthen the retailer’s case when law enforcement agencies consider prosecuting frequent abusers. This comprehensive approach enhances staff safety and provides invaluable support in legal matters, ensuring a safer and more secure environment for all.

Some employers are already taking decisive steps to further mitigate risk. The Works is one example where all stores deemed to be at risk have been equipped with a MySOS personal safety device, connected to the Peoplesafe control centre.

Dave Pardoe, Head of Profit Protection at The Works, commented on where the solution is allocated:

“This may commonly be store colleaues but could also be someone we feel is at risk of being unsafe on their way in and out of work. The relationship we have with our staff is not a 9-5 thing. One of our staff has been at risk of harassment from a customer who has targeted them outside of work and we will look to provide them with a device or app to provide that level of protection.”

Protect Employees Outside of Work

51% of employees believe their employer has a duty of care towards them outside of working hours, making protecting employees outside of the traditional store environment essential for fostering a sense of security and wellbeing among your team. Employees deserve to feel safe not only during work hours but also when they are commuting to and from work and in their personal lives.

Unfortunately, instances of colleagues being targeted outside of the store environment where they feel vulnerable or threatened are not uncommon. To address these concerns and provide employees with greater protection outside of their working hours, organisations can implement 24/7 solutions such as the Peoplesafe SOS App.

When paired with Travelsafe, retailers can provide employees with expert protection whether they’re travelling for work, commuting or meeting friends after their shift. This tech service leverages our 24/7 professional call centre to respond to alarms within 6 seconds and make quick, informed decisions about what help is needed, including a police response for genuine incidents in 4 minutes, on average. 

By extending protection beyond the confines of the workplace, employers demonstrate their commitment to the wellbeing of their staff and foster a culture of care and support.

Benefits of a Strong Safety Culture

A strong safety culture within a retail environment offers numerous benefits, with one of the most significant being the improvement of employees’ sense of safety. This heightened feeling of security not only directly enhances their wellbeing but also has far-reaching implications for recruitment, retention, morale, and productivity.

By fostering a strong safety culture, retailers can directly address personal security challenges and make meaningful improvements to the work environment. When employees feel safer and more supported, they are more likely to remain with the company, reducing turnover rates and the associated costs of recruitment and training.

Moreover, a positive work environment contributes to higher morale among employees, leading to increased job satisfaction and overall wellbeing. Enhanced safety measures can also have a tangible impact on productivity levels. When employees are not constantly worried about their safety, they can focus their energy and attention on their tasks, leading to improved performance and efficiency.

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