Safety in Retailing

By: LB Health and Safety  10/02/2011
Keywords: Risk Assessments

Safety in Retailing

Recently the country's largest newsagent chain (Martin McColl) pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health and safety of staff at one of its shops.  The investigation followed an early-morning robbery at their store in Willow Square, Winsford, in November 2008, during which an employee was seriously assaulted.

Most retail organisations involve the handling of cash and this case illustrates the scope of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and the duty of care that businesses have not only to those staff going about their internal duties eg working in an office, warehouse or bakery; but also those staff performing customer facing roles.  Work related violence is just not confined to (say) an altercation between two employees in the workplace but also extends to exchanges between employees and non-employees (eg customers) during the course of the working day.

The HSE defines work-related violence as "any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work" which includes:

> Physical violence - including kicking, spitting, hitting or pushing, as well as more extreme violence with weapons.

> Verbal abuse - including shouting, swearing or insults, racial or sexual abuse 

> Threats and intimidation.

All businesses and organisations (particularly those that handle cash) must carefully consider their procedures for dealing with threatening or abusive customers/members of the public.  These measures must include ‘soft’ training such as how to diffuse a potentially threatening situation as well as the use of alarms and distress signals.

 The process for determining the level of risk and the associated preventative measures is a Risk Assessment

– something that Martin McColl failed to undertake and as a result thecompany had made an omission that amounted to a "catastrophic management failure".

The example quoted here is (hopefully) extreme however there are many instances of staff abuse that go unreported but nevertheless leave employees traumatised and nervous about dealing with the public in the future.  Whilst it is clearly unacceptable for any business to leave its staff open to violent and aggressive attacks it is also just as unacceptable to leave staff constantly working in fear of aggressive customers and members of the public.

Lone workers are particularly at risk from threatening or abusive customers.  This is not just when working in a shop or advice centre but also when visiting clients in their own homes.  Staff must be trained on how to minimise risks when contacting clients away from their normal place of work, trained on

Safety in Retailing (Cont’d)

safe working procedures to be followed and advised on what safety devices are available to signal for help in the event of a threatening situation. 

Bear in mind that whilst thankfully assaults and murders are infrequent it is the potential for harm that often fires the imagination and creates a climate of fear and intimidation.  The one way to overcome this is good training together with a good personal alarm system.

Martin McColl, which has 1,250 stores nationally, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs by Magistrates at Northwich, (after admitting to the charge of failing to ensure the Health and Safety of their staff).

Keywords: Risk Assessments