The Christmas and New Year break is a perfect time for celebration and catching up with friends and family. People throughout the UK look forward to the well-earned time off with the chance to unwind, relax and try to forget about work for a while.
However, for people working through the Christmas period, the reality can be far from relaxing during the busiest retail time of the year. In this blog, we’ll be looking at how the holiday period affects lone workers in different industries and offer some tips to help keep staff safer at this time of year.
As Christmas is the busiest time in the retail calendar, staff are often faced with longer shifts due to extended opening hours which can also result in locking up the premises later at night. This can lead to earlier starts or later finishes during the darker hours, leading to uncomfortable walks through darker car parks or to other transport, which can pose a higher risk to personal safety.
Christmas shoppers tend to fall into two categories, the happy jolly shopper that can’t wait to get started, and then there’s the stressed-out shopper that can’t wait to get finished. Many staff, particularly within smaller retail outlets working in skeleton staff teams, have found themselves having to deal with aggressive customers, sometimes single-handedly, which poses a significant threat to their safety.
We also see an increase in early ‘festivities’ during this time of year and alcohol has been an issue that has plagued high streets for many years. With pubs and restaurants desperate to compete for business and offering ‘happy hour’ prices, it’s no wonder that intoxicated shoppers are a significant threat to employees and other customers.
Black Friday is almost here and is another example of an extraordinarily busy period for high street retail where very similar circumstances apply. Shoplifting becomes rife over the festive and heavy discount periods, which only adds to the pressure on retail staff and security.
Here are some simple tips to help retail staff stay safer over the holiday period –
- Always ensure that you are accompanied by a team member when performing higher risk tasks such as emptying waste in secluded backyard areas or locking up premises at night. If this isn’t possible then try to have somebody in close contact either by phone or via a lone working device.
- Avoid dark alleys or secluded car parks when walking to your vehicle during darker hours. If there is no alternative, then try to travel with a trusted colleague. If you do feel that your safety is being compromised, then do not continue until you can find support.
- If faced with an aggressive customer, try not to antagonise them further. Politely attempt to deal with their request whilst ensuring that either a manager or security person are aware of the situation. If this assistance is not available, then make sure a colleague is on hand for support. Lone working devices will also provide an essential lifeline in the situations and should be activated at the very beginning of any potentially threatening situation. If a lone working device is not available, then immediately call the Police if a threatening incident should occur.
- Lone worker risk isn’t just associated with other people, it also includes risks from slips, trips or accidents in the workplace. Store management should ensure that health and safety training is up to date with regular risk assessments in place. Our lone working devices can also alert our Alarm Receiving Team for instant support in the case of an accident.
With the increase in hospital admissions during the winter, health and social workers are already stretched to breaking point. When we add to the mix the high number of Covid cases and seasonal flu, long working hours and stressful conditions are inevitable at this time of year.
Tina Whiting, a sister and emergency nurse practitioner at the emergency department at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, was assaulted by a member of the public whilst working in the department. In the year to March 2021, the Trust recorded 1,356 incidents of violence and aggression towards staff, an increase of 17% on the previous year.
Tina said: “I’ve worked at the BRI’s emergency department for 23 years and during this time the department has never experienced such high volumes of violent and aggressive incidents. The Trust has been extremely supportive and taken steps to help protect us. For example, in our department we now have body worn cameras that we can switch on to record such incidents. It is completely unacceptable that we are experiencing such terrible behaviour. We are here to help. Please respect us. Please allow us to do our job safely.”
Similarly, social workers and community nurses are working long hours during dark nights in unfamiliar neighbourhoods, which is also causing extreme stress and higher risk amongst these types of workers.
Having worked with many NHS social working teams across the UK, we would like to offer the following advice –
- When visiting people off-site, trust your instincts, if there is anything about the person that doesn’t feel right upon meeting, immediately make your excuses and leave. If a further meeting does need to take place, then always ensure that a colleague is present too. Immediately explain to your manager the reasons for this so that they can make suitable alternative arrangements and potentially further investigate the issue.
- Be alert at all times. When walking to and from client properties, ensure that headphones and phones are switched off and concentrate on your environment and surroundings.
- Lone working devices can be crucial for many areas of staff safety, from threatening situations to slips, trip or accidents. Our lone worker products feature a ‘Stay with me’ function where our operators will ‘accompany’ the user during any situation that feels potentially threatening until the user is comfortable.
- Consider a personal safety device, such as an audio alarm, as a backup incase of an emergency. Always check beforehand with your company about their policies regarding anti-threat devices such as these.
Lone working carries significant risks throughout the year, however at this time of year during the darker mornings and evenings, the risks increase for workers within the property agent and house builder industries. As staff often work alone, meeting new customers and suppliers in closed property environments, this type of role is already considered high risk. During the darker hours, this risk will increase as staff will operate in lower light environments when visiting properties, walking across car parks, accessing alleyways etc, which can be more dangerous and often quite stressful for the person.
We would recommend that all property appointments are scheduled during ‘daylight’ hours and higher risk scenarios such as dangerous districts, alleyways or car parks are avoided altogether during early mornings or evenings. Police reports suggest that many attacks are usually of a predatory nature and tend to occur when visibility is low, as there is less chance of them being seen or identified.
Based on our professional experience, we have put together this simple checklist to help minimise the safety risks associated with the day-to-day tasks of property / letting managers –
- Always inform your manager and colleagues of the location of the meeting and approximate time duration that you expect to be there. Ensure that the name, address and contact number of the person you are meeting is recorded and easily accessible for your colleagues.
- Check back into the office with a manager or colleague to inform them that the meeting has ended and that you are making your way back to work. Unless you are with another colleague, never accept a lift from or to the property from a contact.
- If possible, check the contacts authenticity before the meeting by checking that their work details are genuine. If possible or practical, try to meet the contact at the office in the first instance so that your colleagues are also able to identify them. If you have any suspicions, then immediately raise this with your manager before your meeting.
- If you do not have access to a lone worker device, then you can use your mobile phone to ‘log’ the visit with a colleague or office answering machine. This could be as simple as stating that you have arrived for your appointment with the client and the expected meeting duration. This is a non-offensive gesture that makes it subtly clear to the contact that your colleagues are fully aware of your location and expected return time.
These simple tips can make a real difference to the safety of individuals in these types of environments, however the most effective solution by far is a dedicated lone worker system. This service will provide you with instant access to our 24/7 Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) team, who are professionally trained to support lone workers in all types of situations, from a simple fall to a serious assault. Our team have direct access to local Police control rooms, bypassing 999 services and ensuring direct assistance in the case of an emergency within seconds.
We hope that this blog has been useful in highlighting the high-risk environment that people within this type of industry face on a daily basis, but particularly at this time of year Our RedAlert services are designed to add an extra layer of protection to help ensure safety and peace of mind for both employees and employers. If you would like more information on this service, then please get in touch and we will be happy to help.
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