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August 9, 2011

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Retailers worried for safety as UK riots escalate

A charity helpline for the retail trade has been swamped with calls from anxious employees, shopkeepers and managers unsure how to deal with the emotional consequences of the riots sweeping the country.

Within the first three days of the disturbances, the Retail Trust’s helpline had experienced a fourfold increase in calls to its helpline and a tenfold rise in visits to its website.

The Trust’s CEO, Nigel Rothband, explained: “We have had calls from people who have been directly affected, from families worried about the security of their relatives, and from individuals worried about the spread of the riots to the parts of town in which they work, their personal security, their jobs, and what might happen next.

“The effect of such extreme impact on their workplaces can be in the same traumatic vein as suffering a robbery or violence in store – invading, as such activity does, the personal space in which people are used to feeling safe and comfortable.”

The Trust has published new guidance on its site to help managers support staff affected by a traumatic incident. It gives some practical tips on how to deal with the immediate aftermath of the incident and how to return to a normal working situation. It says, for example, that managers should discourage staff from being on their own and that, if practical to do so, it is usually better for staff to stay at work with their colleagues for a time after an incident rather than immediately rush home.

The guidance also explains some of the most common reactions that employees might exhibit, such as shock, anger and fear. It states, for example: “Generally your team will feel more afraid than they did before the incident. Be aware that they may want to try to reduce their fear by avoiding risk areas related to the incident.”

Lyndon Bird, technical director at the Business Continuity Institute (BCI), said larger retailers are usually well-prepared to deal with incidents of public disorder but feelings of fear can stay with employees for a long time and hinder a business in getting back to normal.

He explained: “Large retailers, in general, will be very well organised in their emergency-response plans. If a store is not able to be opened they will look to reassign staff to other outlets, arranging transport for them, if necessary, or require them to take holiday in the first instance.

“What they may not have bargained for is the fear of the situation – their plans will assume that if people are safe then they will be available to work, but this may not be the case if they are too frightened to work, especially at night in more dangerous areas. To complicate things, nobody really knows what the dangerous areas will be in this situation.”

Smaller retailers are more unlikely have such plans in place, and the Association of Convenience Stores has issued advice for businesses on how to deal with the immediate safety and security concerns.

The group’s chief executive, James Lowman, said: “The images of local community stores being looted and destroyed by violent criminals are sickening. Most urban areas in London and elsewhere are safe and will remain so, but retailers need to keep in contact with each other and local people to get the earliest warning of any impending problems. People are more important than property. Retailers’ first concern must be to protect themselves and their staff.”

Fears for safety are not just confined to retail workers and the emergency services. The Royal College of Nursing has also warned health-care organisations to review risk assessments, especially measures to protect community nursing staff working alone on evening, or twilight shifts. It points out that the Employment Rights Act allows employees to withdraw from the work environment to a place of safety if they feel they are facing “serious, or imminent danger”.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is seeking urgent reassurances from Home Secretary Theresa May that retailers and their staff will receive sufficient protection and support to help them repair their stores.

It is demanding assurances that the Police and Fire services are adequately resourced and equipped, and are authorised to use robust operational tactics to get situations under control quickly; assurances that offenders will be caught and prosecuted; and immediate support to help shopkeepers protect their properties, including timely intelligence and practical assistance in securing and clearing up after attacks.

Meanwhile, the national media has not let the riots put them off having their usual pop at health and safety. Several papers reported today (9 August) that community-minded people who turned out to help clear up the mess made by the rioters were told not to bother “for health and safety reasons”.

The Mirror, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail all carried a story about Police officers in London’s Clapham Junction telling volunteers that they couldn’t clear up as there was “lots of broken glass” around, and that, consequently, it was up to the local council – Wandsworth – to do the job.

However, IOSH, in an effort to rebut the story, called the council, which assured it that this was not the case at all. An IOSH spokesman said: “This story is nonsense. We’ve spoken to Wandsworth Council and they tell us Police have closed off the area in question because it’s a crime scene, and, once it’s open, they’ll let residents in. The council said it was delighted at the response of residents.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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