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I am a journalist with 13 years of experience on trade publications covering construction, local government, property, pubs, and transport.

As the editor of Safety and Health Practitioner, I am always eager to talk with health and safety professionals about exciting stories from the sector.

Please do drop me an email on james.evison@ubm.com if you have a story to tell.

November 13, 2017

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Survey

Survey: Two-thirds of shopworkers verbally abused

Initial results from a survey by shopworkers union Usdaw have revealed nearly two-thirds have been verbally abused, 40% threatened and 250 assaulted every day.

The shocking figures are an increase on last year – with abuse and assaults up 25% and threats by 38%.

The survey was launched to coincide with Respect for Shopworkers Week (13-19 November) which is also part of the union’s Freedom for Fear campaign that seeks to prevent verbal abuse, threats and violent attacks at work.

Research is continuing with a full set of results due in 2018.

Great scourge

John Hannett, Usdaw general secretary, said: “Violence, threats and abuse against workers is one of the great scourges of our society. The statistics are shocking and show that urgent action is required.

“Many UK workers are on the frontline of dealing with the public and that can mean they end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault.”

Hannett also referred to Office for National Statistics data that shows an 11% increase in shoplifting, a direct trigger for abuse of shopworkers, he said.

He continued: “We really have to question whether this is a consequence of severe cuts in police funding. Since 2010 there are 20,000 fewer police, shoplifting is rising, but fewer shop thieves going to court.

“Only last week Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found in their third annual report that police forces are under significant financial pressure and some are failing to respond to “low priority crimes” including theft, assault and violence.

Life on the frontline

“Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them.

“All too often criminals who assault staff are not even sent to court, those who are can receive derisory sentences. In other cases, where the offender isn’t even charged, victims are left feeling that no one cares that they were assaulted.

“So there needs to be action to help protect staff. It is time for the Government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals.

“This week our members are out campaigning on high streets, in shopping centres and stores; talking to the public and asking them to ‘keep their cool and respect shopworkers’. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected.”

Voices from the frontline

As part of the survey, respondents had the opportunity to feedback their experiences. Below are a few examples:

Theft:

  • “Customer already banned continued to try get in shop and steal”
  • “Shoplifter, told me to get out of the way or get stabbed with a syringe.”
  • “Shoplifters are getting more physical.”

Throwing goods:

  • “A frozen Gammon was thrown at me by an irate customer at Xmas.”
  • “Customer throwing card machines insults, shouting, swearing etc”
  • “Had tin of beans thrown at me”
  • “I had a customer throw a suitcase at me!”

Weapons:

  • “Racist and sexist comments and drunks threatening to beat people up with a bat!”
  • “Threatened with a needle, threatened to be punched in the face and pushed into a wall.”

Age Restricted Sales:

  • “Aggression and attempts to intimidate when upholding challenge 25 and licensing laws, It leaves me often feeling so angry and abused I find it very difficult to quickly move on and deal with my next customer.”
  • “I was called a cow because refused to serve alcohol to customer who had no id.”

Assaults:

  • “I have had a customer ram a trolley into my leg as he said I was in the way!”
  • “Punched in the face by shoplifter I was stopping from leaving the store with stolen goods.”
  • “Aggressive customers thinking it’s okay to shout, scream and use inappropriate hitting of arms etc.”

Abuse:

  • “Customer called me a stupid girl because I had no £5 notes in my till.”
  • “Customers can be really rude, whistling for attention or clicking fingers”
  • “On the customer service desk I was told to ‘cheer up it’s nearly Christmas you miserable bitch’ in a nasty tone.”

Threats:

  • “A guy threatened to smash my face in with a bottle of alcohol.”
  • “Closing the shop, customer wanted to come in – had 1 minute left open, I refused entry and was told ‘gonna kick my head in when I finish work’.”
  • “I had lasses waiting for me outside the shop and lads following me to my house”.

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