Beyond the Aisles: Safeguarding retail workers in the face of escalating safety challenges
The retail sector is facing a surge in public aggression, dubbed the ‘intolerance epidemic,’ with safety concerns for workers on the rise.
An insight from Naz Dossa, CEO of Peoplesafe.
This year, the retail sector has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Most recently, came the shocking news that a Morrison’s worker was the victim of a brutal stabbing in-store, while working a day shift. The public aggression dubbed the ‘intolerance epidemic’ continues to rise, driven in part by the cost-of-living crisis. Major safety concerns continue to surface within the retail space, with almost half of retail workers (47%) now left feeling unsafe at work*. To say this is a worrying statistic would be an understatement.
Workers across the entire retail sector are now faced with risk, so what more can employers do to step up to protect their workforce because the latest Retail Trust stats suggest that current measures are not cutting it.
This year Peoplesafe partnered with the Retail Trust in support of the charity’s Respect Retail campaign, to help protect and improve the lives of people working in retail. The Trust’s alarming new research reveals that 90% of retail workers have experienced customer abuse, with two in five now shouted at, spat on, threatened, or hit every week. The current retail intake is both difficult to recruit and retain with many employees feeling worried about their safety.
While many retail giants are urging police forces across the UK to offer staff more protection, under common law, all employers have a duty of care towards their workers. In short, retailers have a responsibility to ensure that staff feel safe and supported at work, and the first step is making sure that they are aware of potential workplace dangers and equipped with the skills to mitigate risk to their personal safety. So, how to make this happen?
The focus has been on the in-store issues, but what no one talks about is the safety problems thousands of retail workers experience on the commute. While it still isn’t factored into the wider safety conversation, this issue is having a huge impact on the lives of retail employees and it’s driving an increasing number of them away from working in the sector.
Many workers face physical and verbal abuse on the journey into and out of work – the majority of them wear their store’s uniform. One Retail Trust case study recently spoke up about feeling particularly vulnerable in work uniform due to seeing shoplifters when walking home or to the bus stop. Meanwhile, new data from the British Transport Police (BTP) released in November has revealed that over a third of women have been victims of sexual harassment or sexual offences while commuting by train, tube, or tram.
The question must be asked: where exactly does employee duty of care start and end?
The Works is one of a growing number of British retailers who has recognised this escalating issue and is putting personal safety at the top of the agenda. The company has gone beyond basic tick-box compliance and is now offering support and protection both inside and outside of official working hours, allocating personal safety devices to any site where personal safety may be compromised. In one instance, a device was immediately issued to a member of staff who had been harassed outside of work to ensure they felt safe after leaving work, and confident to return for their next shift.
David Pardoe, Head of Profit Protection at The Works believes that the relationship the business has with staff is not just a 9-5 arrangement. By providing 24/7 protection to those at risk, the company proactively upholds its people-centric values and ensures that its valued team members feel safe and supported.
Other forward-looking employers will see the connection between employee peace of mind and overall job satisfaction and performance. Indeed, nearly half (48%) of employees would see their employer in a better light if they were provided with a personal safety solution, enhancing brand reputation**. Technology can offer retailers the tools to help fulfil their duty of care, and while many safety solutions are both costly and challenging to implement at scale, personal safety apps can monitor and protect people wherever they are and whenever they need it – and start at the price of a cup of coffee.
Employee safety across retail cannot be a tick-box exercise. While some retailers are going beyond, the basic legal duty of care, if more were to commit to providing greater people protection and peace of mind through recognised standards and wider-reaching responsibility, the UK retail sector might find itself in a much safer place.
Naz Dossa is CEO of Peoplesafe and Chair of the BSIA Lone Worker Section Committee, helping to drive innovation across the industry.
* Retail Trust survey among UK retail workers. Total response size was 1,639 people who have had previous contact with the Retail Trust. The survey took place online between 9 August and 25 August 2023 and due to the sensitive nature of the subject was carried out anonymously.