More training needed to protect retail workers

SA Gov

SafeWork SA inspectors attended 89 retail workplaces in metropolitan and regional South Australia between June 2022 and January 2023. A closure report on the Preventing Violence and Aggression in Retail Proactive Compliance Project has been published this month.

The inspectors issued 28 Improvement Notices during the campaign. Major areas of non-compliance included a lack of training for retail workers on how to deal with violence, aggression, and armed robberies. This accounted for 42% of the non-compliance notices issued during the campaign.

Safe systems of work to reduce or eliminate risks were the next highest area of non-compliance, accounting for 14 per cent of all non-compliance identified. Safe systems of work to address risk of violence and aggression in a retail setting can include security screens, duress alarms, signage, and CCTV cameras.

Service stations had the largest number of notices issued, with nine. However, they also accounted for the most site visits undertaken. Other notices were issued at supermarkets and general retailers, pharmacies, and fast-food outlets.

Last year the South Australian Government brought in new regulations to increase penalties for people found guilty of assaulting retail workers, bringing them into line with penalties for assaulting a police officer or paramedic.

From 25 August 2022 to 31 August 2023, 215 criminal charges were laid by SAPOL in relation to violence and aggression in the retail sector.

These charges are:

  • Commit theft using force – 11 charges
  • Commit assault – 184 charges
  • Commit assault that causes harm – 6 charges
  • Assault a prescribed emergency worker – 3 charges
  • Prohibited act with human biological material – Any other case – 8 charges
  • Cause serious harm to another (With intent) – 1 charges
  • Cause harm to another (With intent) – 2 charges

A national survey of retail workers conducted by the SDA in 2017 found that 85 per cent of respondents had been subjected to verbal abuse from a customer in the previous 12 months. Almost 65 per cent said they had not received any training in the previous 12 months on how to deal with threatening situations, including abusive or violent customers.

As put by Kyam Maher

Retail is a vital industry in South Australia and contributes significantly towards local employment.

We know that the nature of retail work includes frequent contact with members of the public, which can expose workers to potential hazards, including violence and aggression.

During the pandemic retail workers bore the brunt of significant unwarranted abuse.

The reforms we brought in last year recognise that abusive behaviour towards retail workers is completely unacceptable.

Businesses, industry, unions and Government must work hand in hand to protect retail workers.

As put by SafeWork SA Executive Director Glenn Farrell

In November 2022, SafeWork SA signed on to the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association’s (SDA) nationwide industry statement pledging to eradicate customer abuse from the retail and fast-food industries.

The industry statement pledges support for the eradication of customer abuse and violence, as well agreeing to encourage and facilitate the reporting of all forms of customer perpetrated abuse and violence towards workers, including sexual harassment and assault.

Many retail workers are young, work in isolation and have little experience dealing with customers, let alone aggressive ones.

Employers have a duty to ensure that risks of violence and aggression in the workplace are appropriately managed if they can’t be eliminated.

As put by SDA Secretary Josh Peak

The use of the laws brought in last year are sending a strong message to the South Australian community that abusing retail and fast food workers will not be tolerated.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; there are many incidents that go unreported to the Police and SafeWork SA.

Customer abuse is endemic across retail and fast food and the findings from SafeWork SA’s audit – as well as the SAPOL statistics – demonstrate this.

Employers must take an active approach to preventing customer abuse and creating a completely safe environment for their workers.

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