Violence against shop workers reaches peak levels

The latest figures from both The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and The Usdaw Union for shopworkers, highlight how incidents of violence and abuse against shopworkers in the UK have reached their peak in a decade.

As remote and lone working in retail becomes more widespread, shopworkers are increasingly exposed to the risks of physical and verbal assault and aggression, which can even be life-threatening in some cases, especially when they lack direct support.

For many people working in retail, the fear over personal safety can affect their entire wellbeing, leading to loss of concentration, poor memory, fatigue and even mental health issues such as anxiety, which can in turn impact the overall performance of a business.

What are the statistics?

These worrying statistics come as a result of an annual survey conducted by the BRC, revealing an astonishing 363% overall increase in attacks against shopworkers since 2011/12.

Statistics based on 1,455 Shopworkers in 2017 show:

  • Nearly 2/3 of Shopworkers were verbally abused – an increase of 25% from last year
  • 250 Shopworkers were assaulted every day – an increase of 25% from last year
  • 40% of Shopworkers were threatened – an increase o 38% from last year

Additionally, in 2014-2015 the HSE found that 65% of workers cited ‘dealing with difficult customers, patients and pupils’ as a risk they face in the workplace.

According to Police data, there has also been a 13% rise in crime across England and Wales in 2017, surpassing the 5 million mark for the first time in 10 years.

However, it’s not just the UK that has seen an overall rise in crime. In the US, violent crime rose 4.1% in 2016, and 8% across New Zealand.

Why are retail workers at risk?

Clearly there is an upward trend in both violence towards those who work in retail and crime in general that is concerning, particularly as the nature of retail means that staff will always be customer facing.

Retail workers also face additional risks:

  • Being on duty during late hours staff are more likely to come into contact with people under the influence of drugs and alcohol, meaning they are more susceptible to violence and verbal abuse
  • A Shopworker working alone could be seen as an easier target of aggressive incidents when linked to theft or assaults
  • Lone retail workers on night shifts could find themselves in a kidnap or hostage scenario when less witnesses are around
  • Many lone workers in the retail industry who work with large amounts of money are more vulnerable to robbery

So, given the risks, should retail workers ever work alone? We explore how to make the judgement call on lone working in our previous blog post ‘when is lone working not ok?’ which you can read here (

How can Shopworkers be protected?

Responding to the latest results, John Hannett, General Secretary of Usdaw, the UK’s 5th largest Union with over 430,000 members, described the increase in violence to shopworkers as “deeply concerning”. Hannett launched the ‘Freedom From Fear’ campaign and is campaigning on highstreets to demand respect for Shopworkers. However, this alone is not enough to offer full protection to Lone Workers.

 If you have conducted a through risk assessment and decided that lone working is suitable for your business, then there are processes you should follow to ensure that those lone workers are as protected as possible.

Businesses should be aware of the risks posed to their lone working retail staff, which should always be considered seriously and outlined clearly to workers. Correct training and a clear policy should be put in place for Lone Workers, including preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of violence.

Here is our lone worker safety checklist:

  • Is the task suitable for a person to handle alone?
  • Has proper training been given to the lone worker?
  • Is the task particularly stressful or upsetting? Is your lone worker mentally equipped to cope with the work?
  • Is there a risk of violence or aggression?
  • Does your employee have an existing medical condition which provides additional support?
  • Are you assessing your employees separately? E.g. trainees, young, pregnant and disabled workers.
  • Is there a clear communication procedure during an emergency? Remember to consider those whose first language is not English
  • Do your lone workers understand emergency protocol? – do they know what to do if they fall ill, have an accident or if there is an emergency such as a fire?
  • Are your lone workers monitored and properly supervised?

Addressing the last point on our checklist – how can you monitor and protect staff who work alone?

Personal safety apps and devices like StaySafe, provide employees who work alone, with a reliable way to signal for help if their personal safety is under threat.

The StaySafe app is complete with a range of functionality which allows a user to signal for help, regardless of their circumstances at the time. The Duress Alarm is ideal for high-risk retail workers and permits an employee in danger to discreetly send the alert, so that a monitor will be notified that the user is being forced to end a session and take action.

The app can also be linked via Bluetooth to a small wearable button that workers can clip to their clothing and use to signal for help.

Security and reassurance is provided to Lone workers in knowing that someone is looking out for them. This ultimately increases wellbeing, job satisfaction and productivity, and is particularly important for those who work alone as they are more vulnerable to risks of violence and aggression which instils fear.

StaySafe is recognised around the world for its ease-of use and smart technology, and was recently awarded The Ultimate App or Website Award at The Techies 2018.

Find out more about StaySafe’s safety solutions or contact us to arrange a live demo to see how we could better protect your staff.


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