Exclusive: A clear and present danger

August 5, 2021

Retailers must take action to safeguard workers, create a pleasant environment for customers and protect their reputations, reports Reliance Protect.

The UK high street is currently experiencing long-term decline, as more people shop online in search of better deals, benefitting from convenience factors, such as home delivery and click and collect. Once popular household names such as Debenhams, House of Fraser, Select, HMV, Evans Cycles, Toys ‘R’ Us and Maplin have joined thousands of other smaller retailers in either disappearing completely or being taken over after going into administration.

There appears to be very little light at the end of the tunnel and, according to the Centre for Retail Research, job losses for 2021 alone are expected to reach 200,000 with over 1,700 store closures. In addition, a massive rise in experiential retailing has affected most retailers, as customers are mainly seeking out experience led shopping. It means that shoppers who still choose to visit stores are increasingly looking for an end-to-end connected experience – they want a place where the physical products on display are linked to the online world and where they receive personalised advice and assistance.

While some retailers look towards experiential retailing as the potential saviour of the high street, they also need to address the risks associated with fewer staff, combined with another key concern – the growing threat of violence towards staff.

Violence in the retail space

Violence in the workplace is far more common than most people realise, which can include everything from verbal abuse, (mandatory mask wearing has been a catalyst for this), pushing and punching, to spitting, sexual assault and even fatalities.

It is one of the most pressing issues retailers face – and it’s increasing year on year. Furthermore, poor or non-existent confrontation management training means that some colleagues can inadvertently exacerbate a problem and inflame potentially volatile situations. This perfect storm means that violence is becoming more commonplace.

Duty of care and health and safety legislation

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work related violence as ‘any incident in which an employee is abused, threatened or assaulted by a member of the public in circumstances arising out of the course of his/her employment’.

Employers must ensure the health and safety of employees while they are at work, along with any third parties affected by their business, including members of the public.

There is no room for error when it comes to employee safety and, as part of a defined corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy and occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS), measures should be put in place to tackle the risk of violence. A thorough risk assessment should be undertaken to identify any hazards, consider who might be harmed and how, evaluate any danger and decide on the necessary preventative measures. Once completed and preventative measures actioned, the findings should be documented and the risk assessment process reviewed and updated at regular intervals.

Implementing technology for employee protection

Those working in the retail sector perform a variety of roles and as well as those on the shop floor there are also warehouse personnel, cashiers, customer services staff, office workers, logistical personnel and, in larger organisations, engineering and maintenance teams – all of whom need to be protected whilst going about their activities. In some situations these individuals are classed as lone workers and should be provided with the requisite technology to stay safe.

Personal safety device technology has developed significantly over the last decade. It acts as a means to summon aid in the event of emergency, to collect important information that can be used as evidence and confirm the safety of an individual by allowing them to check in or out. As a result, there is now an array of devices on the market, ranging from panic buttons and alarms with audio functionality to body worn cameras and smartphone applications that can connect employees quickly to an emergency response system. In cases where discretion is required to avoid heightening tensions, manufacturers have developed solutions that can be hidden from obvious sight, for example, in the form of an ID Badge holder, so an aggressor is unaware that an individual is wearing a personal safety device.

Body worn cameras are increasingly being deployed. They act as a powerful deterrent and their presence can diffuse situations and change people’s behaviours.  They also generate evidence, both video and audio. Typically, the body worn cameras are triggered to record by the user, rather than recording constantly. When triggered, cameras now have the capability to generate a live video and audio stream for remote incident monitoring and response purposes.

Every retail environment is unique and different roles come with different risks. This adds to the importance of carrying out a full and detailed risk assessment, which can identify the best type of personal safety device(s) to deploy. It is also important to work with a technology provider that is able to integrate its personal safety equipment into a broader security infrastructure. For example, aligning personal safety equipment with CCTV, access control and even manned guarding can create a solution where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By using this strategy, threats and dangers can be identified well in advance and any information used to prevent a serious incident occurring.

This type of holistic strategy also enables full visibility and avoids the unnecessary expense, disruption and logistical issues that can be caused by duplicating technology and other resources. Leading manufacturers are also able to offer relevant training, which is vital in terms of being able to use any equipment correctly. However, even with the most sophisticated preventive measures in place, incidents can still occur. Retailers should therefore have a detailed strategy in place that teaches staff how to deal with aggressive individuals and diffuse volatile situations through conflict avoidance, management and de-escalation techniques and have effective incident follow up procedures to support any staff affected

Remote monitoring and what to look for in an ARC

Personal safety devices and body worn cameras are used to best effect when connected to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), which receives and manages activations, audio calls and live video streams and can request emergency services. With certain devices, if an individual feels that they are entering into a situation that poses a potential risk, they can even send a pre-activation message to inform the ARC. If a dangerous situation then arises, the device can be activated to send an alert for assistance. With an audio-based system, activating a device triggers a voice call to the ARC, where trained operators monitor the audio channel in real time, enabling them to assess the situation and alert the police if and when necessary.  Body worn cameras can trigger live video and audio streams into the ARC accelerating the situation verification process conducted by the operator.

When choosing an ARC it is important to select one that has the requisite industry accreditations. The long established BS 5979 and the more recently introduced BS EN 50518/BS 8591 standards are recognised and accepted by the police service and the security auditing bodies. They define the parameters that must be adhered to by ARCs that receive signals from fire and security systems.

There is also BS 8418, which covers the installation and remote monitoring of detector activated surveillance technology and sets out to raise the standard of installation and operation of integrated systems. This not only concerns design, but also the performance of personal safety equipment, motion detectors, cameras, alarm handling devices and how the overall system is maintained.

It may seem obvious that these accreditations are adhered to, however we all hear far too often about data breaches, cyber attacks and malicious hacking events that happen every day somewhere in the country. The responsibility for safety, security and integrity starts with our decisions on technology and providers.

URNs and the need to eliminate false alarms

The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s (NPCC) Police Requirements & Response to Security Systems policy sets conditions on the use of an allocated unique reference number (URN) when requesting attendance at an incident. Underpinning this service is the ARC accreditation to BS 5979 Category II, or BS EN 50518 and BS 8591. For lone worker solutions with personal safety devices, accreditation to BS 8484 is required to be able to escalate to police services via a lone worker URN. The corresponding standard for body worn cameras is BS 8593.

False alarms generated from traditional security systems can often result in the police response being removed from those sites. The time and effort required to gain reinstatement takes up resources and can leave sites exposed for significant periods of time.

The Metropolitan Police claims that responding to a false alarm costs £150 but BS 8484 has helped to drastically reduce the number of incidents where police are called out unnecessarily. In 2018 the BSIA claimed that BS 8484 accredited systems only pass between 0.1-0.2% of all personal safety and lone worker generated alarms to the police via URNs. ARCs that take the issue seriously have developed processes and procedures that filter out false alarms to ensure that only genuine emergencies are escalated

For further information, please visit: www.relianceprotect.co.uk

This article was originally published in the August edition of Security Journal UK. To get your FREE digital copy, visit: https://digital.securityjournaluk.com

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