When Paddy Lillis, USDAW General Secretary spoke about our partnership for Respect for Shopworkers week, he said:

Over the past year, nearly two-thirds of shopworkers were verbally abused, 40% were threatened and around 250 were assaulted every day. Unfortunately, the results have been remarkably consistent over the last 10 years.”

Working in the Retail Support Centre, where we hear about every incident our colleagues go through, I can back this up. In the last five days, our stores have seen four armed robberies; two of them were people threatening colleagues with knives, one with metal pipes and one with a knife, a sledgehammer and a baseball bat. It might sound shocking, but this week isn’t out of the ordinary.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, as not one colleague on shift – there were more than three in all four stores at the time – was hurt. Some areas rarely experience any crime, but for others, it can happen often. And for the most part, crimes in store don’t cause serious injury for our colleagues.

But there are times when retail crime does injure colleagues

One store in Whalley range recently had an incident; a man walked in and tried to take some cigarettes from behind the kiosk. The colleague behind the till argued with him and removed him from the area. The man ran out of the store empty-handed, but another colleague, who’d heard the commotion from the other side of the store, followed the man outside. When the colleague confronted the man, a fight ensued and the man brought out a knife. He swung the knife – without looking – at the colleague and stabbed him in his side.

The injured colleague was treated in hospital, home within a few hours and back to work the next day. I met him last week to talk about the incident, and he’s as well as he can be. We installed headsets that evening, Lifeworks have been in to support the whole team if they need it, and the store now has a guard outside to help make customers and colleagues feel safe.

What can we do?

My team is constantly working to improve colleague safety, finding ways to create safer communities, safer stores and comprehensive aftersupport. While we can’t prevent these crimes happening at all, thankfully we can help our colleagues protect themselves if they ever find themselves in danger. I’ll be talking about everything we do in my next blog post later this week.

It’s a huge relief that the colleague’s injury isn’t any more serious than it is, but it highlights how important it is not to take risks. We’ve had colleagues who’ve emptied safes at gunpoint and felt guilty about it, but we’re insured for that kind of thing. Retail crime happens, and, as long as our colleagues keep themselves safe when we can’t protect them, we’re working on the rest.

Ryan Smith
Retail Response and Resilience Officer

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. One of my more bizarre experiences of being abused by a customer was someone throwing a full block of Camembert at me from less than 3ft away and somehow managing to miss me but severely dent the display for the till-scales.

    Less funny times abound though; I think it’s definitely underestimated how frequently you end up having to defuse aggressive situations as a member of retail staff.

  2. Colleagues in stores do a great job, it’s saddening to hear that they have to deal with this sort of thing, It is good to see that they get the support they need after this sort of event.

  3. Shocking these things happen but we also see this happening in Brighton as I work in Funeralcare which is next to a co op food store. Its mainly shop lifting in many stores , meat, alcohol etc

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