Preventing Retail Violence

Workers are at an elevated risk of workplace violence, the retail industry experiences the third-highest workplace violence victimisation rate, after law enforcement and mental health professionals.

Some elements make certain retail stores greater targets. Late-night retailers such as convenience stores, supermarkets, and petrol stations and we can’t forget about the employees in the hospitality sector often are at the highest risk, because many have poorly lit car parking facilities and frequently are run by a lone worker.

Employers can implement certain logistical changes to make their retail outlets less susceptible to robbery and other acts of violence. A recent report outlined the guidance on preventing workplace violence in late-night retail establishments which included modifications to the physical environment, such as avoiding signage and shelving that blocks a worker’s view of the windows, installing a drop safe to limit the amount of money on hand, and also using bullet-proof enclosures in areas in south east England to protect workers from potential assailants.

Yet workers also need to be well-trained in how to behave in the event of a robbery or other encounter with a violent customer. At some stores “there have been cutbacks in the security coverage, and that’s a generally a massive concern. It’s not uncommon for an employee at a supermarket or a chemist to encounter violent situations a couple times a year.”

The main thing workers need to understand is to not resist in a robbery situation. My personal advice is to be as cooperative, calm and nonthreatening as possible, workers should be instructed to not confront shoplifters. “Unfortunately, some of those smaller retailers do … expect their employees to actively confront a shoplifter.” It’s very difficult not to though.

However, workplace violence can erupt not only at the hands of would-be robbers and shoplifters, but also from disgruntled customers. In those cases. I truly believe it is critical that employees know when to turn the situation over to a manager. “Be clear about the role of the manager. When a situation is developing with a customer, where they are getting more and more irate, [workers should] turn that over to a manager and not continue to get involved.”

Workers should not feel like they are failing to do their job or letting the manager down by doing this. “I would say that would be the critical point [in prevention] and hopefully stores have that policy. Managers are the ones that are trained to do that higher level of customer relations, and hopefully employees don’t make the mistake of getting personally involved in the situation. That’s the key part of training, as difficult as it is.”

Steven Connelly

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