Tackling violence and aggression - in London and beyond
For many years we have been concentrating on the more traditional and obvious health and safety risks in retail, such as customer slips and trips and staff manual handling injuries.
Following our project on violence in the workplace it is now clear that the risk of assault in certain areas, with or without weapons, is also significant and carries with it the potential for serious and life-threatening consequences.
In 2006 we were approached by Westminster City Council's CivicWatch Business project team and together we explored the risks to staff associated with abuse and violence from members of the public in some of our Westminster branches.
In one store in particular, staff were experiencing regular threats and quite early on we decided to pilot a new management approach in that store.
The project team provided:
- training on the need to report incidents - rather than tolerate them as can often be the case in the retail sector;
- guidance on effective risk assessment;
- assistance in the development of a violence policy.
Arising from this review of our arrangements we installed CCTV cameras and rolled out new procedures to allow better reporting of incidents to head office. As a result of these initiatives our staff felt safer and better supported than before. In addition, after just a few weeks, the incident rate of violence had fallen dramatically to the point that they were counting the days between them rather than the number of incidents per day.
The business case for the adoption of these new measures was further reinforced in that there was also a considerable decline in the number of thefts.
This pilot gave us the springboard to extend the project to other stores in Westminster and also nationwide.
As a result we now have the following arrangements in place:
- a 'Policy on Avoiding Violence from Members of the Public' agreed by our Executive Board;
- a training programme for staff on how to identify potentially aggressive situations and how to diffuse aggression using verbal strategies and body language etc;
- a violence risk assessment process to help our stores identify their local risks and the most appropriate controls for dealing with them;
- improved reporting arrangements for assaults, using a telephone system rather than a database. Effective reporting is essential in that it provides the business with the intelligence it needs in order to plan for and implement measures to prevent recurrences.
This work will continue to evolve and while we have to accept that when dealing with the public there will always be the potential for violence and aggression, we believe these measures reassure staff of our determination to take effective action to protect them.