A local authority has taken action against newsagent chain Martin McColl for failing to protect employees from workplace violence.
Cheshire West and Chester Council decided to prosecute the company after a worker was violently assaulted during a robbery at its branch in Willow Square, Winsford. The firm appeared at Northwich Magistrates’ Court on 25 August and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £5000 and ordered to pay £5505 in costs.
The court heard that store manager, Christine Rowe, was working alone when the incident took place on 2 November 2008. She had just opened the store and was sorting through a delivery of newspapers, when a masked man entered the shop and pushed her to the floor. She was then dragged into a storeroom where the man demanded she open the safe. She complied and handed over £2641. The man then struck her in the face, which knocked her unconscious, and she suffered a fractured eye socket.
The store had been robbed one month earlier, after which the Police had given a number of suggestions to help protect staff. The Police discovered that the store’s CCTV was not working, and that staff were unaware that the panic alarm had been disconnected, which meant it would only ring internally and wouldn’t notify a security company when activated. It was also suggested that the company install a time-delay safe.
The council’s investigation found that none of the police’s suggestions had been implemented, and staff had not received training in how to deal with robberies, or violent customers.
The firm was issued an Improvement Notice in January 2009, which required it to produce a written risk assessment for workplace violence.
Trafford Council issued five similar Improvement Notices to Martin McColl between 2008 and 2009 following several incidents where employees were assaulted at its stores in Manchester.
In mitigation, the company told the court that it had no related convictions and had cooperated with the investigation. It now ensures that two workers are present when stores open and it has provided them with training on workplace violence. The CCTV has been repaired in the Winsford store and a time-delay safe has been installed.
Following the hearing, councillor for Cheshire West and Chester Council, Lynn Riley, said: “This is the first prosecution of its type for this authority and I am reassured with the outcome. It is unacceptable for any company to leave its staff open to violent and aggressive attacks.€ﾨ
“Advice and support on health and safety issues is available to all businesses from the local authority – there really is no excuse to fail store employees in such a way.”
When contacted by SHP, Martin McColl refused to comment.
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