Reducing Risk in Retail

The retail sector has been confronted with multiple challenges caused by the Covid19 pandemic, from the suite of measures required to support social distancing and protect workers in-store to the need to swiftly upscale distribution operations in response to the shift to online shopping.

Amid such turbulent times, it is important for those responsible for the health and safety of employees to stay alert to what the changing working practices could mean for their duty of care obligations.

The immediate focus of retailers when lockdown restrictions eased was understandably acquiring the correct levels of PPE to protect workers while carrying out their vital roles, followed by putting in place new systems to keep customers safe while shopping and implement new government guidelines for shops and work environments.

Shop worker behind glass handing bag to customer - both wearing face masks

However, social distancing measures, changes to shift patterns and fewer staff members also means that the number of retail employees classed as lone workers has increased during the pandemic. Many more workers are now either alone or ‘out of earshot’ from colleagues for at least some of their working hours.

In retail, this could mean more workers are left in vulnerable situations, from working in warehouse or distribution environments without close supervision to opening/closing stores or dealing with anti-social behaviour alone.

Vulnerable environments

The retail workers union Usdaw has warned about a significant rise in abuse against shop workers when attempting to enforce government face mask and social distancing guidelines. The union has said that the average retail worker is being assaulted, threatened or abused once every 6.5 days; in 2019, such incidents were only occurring once a fortnight.

Even before the pandemic escalated tension, the British Retail Consortium’s latest Retail Crime Survey recorded just under 155,000 incidents across the industry. This equates to 424 shop workers being physically attacked every day with an even greater number verbally abused and threatened.

Sign in retail store against abusive behaviour towards staff

Those employees working in busy warehouse and distribution depots have also been affected by changes brought about by the pandemic. Despite exiting the nationwide lockdown, the UK’s online retail sales have continued to soar as people’s buying habits have fundamentally shifted, putting increased and unexpected pressure on warehouse teams.

Changes to normal working procedures may also increase their vulnerability: lone working could mean someone operating dangerous machinery alone or fewer people on-site during night shifts to help if something were to go wrong. Lone working in these environments also creates issues when there is a need to make an ‘on the spot’ safety decision without colleagues nearby to support or send for help. As anyone responsible for health and safety knows, any injury occuring while working out of the sight or sound of others can become very serious, very quickly.

Revising retail risk assessments

As the second wave of the pandemic kicks in and retailers are expected to reinforce safe distancing measures and practices across the shopfloor and beyond, retailers would be advised to review and update their protocols and risk assessments to ensure there is sufficient protection in place for those employees now classed as lone workers.

Whilst the Government must recognise the severity of any violent or abusive incident (and ensure appropriate legislation surrounds them); having a robust strategy for managing abusive customers and providing support when unfortunate incidents arise is even more important in today’s retail environment.

This might include training staff on how to diffuse challenging situations to providing stores with technology that can help shop workers to swiftly and discreetly call for help wherever they are in the store.

How can Peoplesafe help?

Peoplesafe works with many retail organisations, providing them with reliable and cost-effective personal safety solutions that can be rolled out quickly and simply to selected members of staff or the entire workforce. We offer a wide range of personal safety alarms and devices to provide the right solutions for the risk faced by people working in different roles and environments, from mobile apps to discreet devices with two-way audio.

Each solution provides a direct link to our Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), staffed 24/7 by Incident Managers who are trained to actively listen in to a situation using the two-way audio and respond, if safe to do so. Our team can offer guidance and help to talk down an aggressive member of the public or, where needed, summon help to prevent injury or trauma.

escalation procedure

Our Incident Managers can directly contact local police control rooms without the need for a 999 call, guaranteeing the fastest possible response. All audio and actions from each incident are digitally recorded and can be used as legal evidence.

Our solutions

For low risk lone workers, the Peoplesafe mobile app is an affordable and user-friendly way to carry out safe and well checks or raise SOS alarms with the ARC by pressing the SOS  emergency button.

Our Smart Button is a discreet wearable device that works directly with the app to raise an alarm at the touch of a button through a bluetooth connection. This option is well suited to those customer-facing roles who may need to discreetly summon help – the device overrides a smartphone’s keypad lock and connects the user with our ARC for immediate support in difficult situations.

We also offer compact, robust devices that connect directly to the ARC without the need for a mobile phone. They can be configured with our fall detection feature that will automatically raise an alarm if the device changes orientation followed by a period of non-movement. These solutions may be more suitable for those working in hazardous environments, such as warehouses and depots.

You can find out more about how Pets at Home use the Peoplesafe service to protect their workers on the shop floor here.

Our team of experts can offer support and guidance to any retail organisation looking for personal safety devices, or advice on the best way to review and address the risks associated with lone working in retail. Get in touch today to discuss how we can help you.