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With retail violence and abuse incidents on the rise, hospitality and retail business insurer NFU Mutual is urging employers to prepare hospitality staff as the festive period approaches, and advising consumers to act with respect.

The Royal Society for Public Health’s ‘Service With(out) a Smile’ research reports that 96% of workers in the hospitality sector have experienced some kind of mistreatment at work, with verbal abuse from customers identified as the most common source (74%).

This alarming trend prompted commercial insurer NFU Mutual to explore the impact of retail violence. Their research, with more than 2,000 respondents from across the UK, has found that nearly half of consumers (48%) have witnessed some form of abuse towards customer-facing staff in the past three years, ranging from customers belittling or being patronising, cursing and shouting, to physical attacks upon employees.

Across the hospitality sector, pubs, restaurants and bars were the most common places for customers to witness incidents of retail violence (28%), followed by cafés (19%) and hotels (15%). Young adults were the most likely to identify instances of abuse, particularly in pubs, bars and restaurants, with 51% of 18 -24 year olds noting incidents, 23% more than the average of 28%.

Four in five consumers (83%) expect hospitality staff to have the necessary training to effectively manage a verbally or physically abusive customer.  Despite this, over a quarter (29%) of the customer-facing businesses surveyed said that they are not actively taking any measures to protect their staff. Where measures were taken, they included having a policy statement, installing CCTV or always doubling up on staff.

A consultation is currently underway in England and Wales that proposes new laws with better protection for retail workers involved in the sale or supply of age-restricted goods or services. Nearly three quarters of businesses surveyed by NFU Mutual (74%) agreed with the proposed changes.

Darren Seward, Hospitality Sector Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “With Christmas fast approaching, it’s vital for employers to ensure their staff are prepared for potential incidents. The sale of age-restricted goods and services have proven to be a major trigger point for incidents of violence or verbal abuse against hospitality workers. The festive period sees more social events hosted across the sector, increasing footfall and providing more opportunity for this kind of conflict.”

The NFU Mutual study also found that 74% of consumers would either physically (34%) or verbally (40%) intervene if a member of staff was being attacked by another customer. While these good intentions are commendable, they present a challenge for businesses as such situations could very easily get out of hand. A third of customers (31%) wouldn’t revisit a store that handled an incident of violence poorly.

Darren continued: “A poorly-handled incident can damage reputation and make customers think twice about revisiting, while a well-handled incident could even help to encourage visits. Although insurance can provide cover against legal action, injuries and property damage, the best option is always preparation.”

NFU Mutual provides the following advice to help prevent retail crime:

  1. Be safe and secure with cash

When moving cash, have a working process, and ensure staff are trained and following it at all times. Where possible, have more than one staff member on hand.

Make sure the cash is taken quickly to a private area out of view of the public. Try to vary the times that it takes place. Otherwise, it can easily become predictable to thieves.

  1. Keep the property secure

Physical security is often overlooked, but it can be very easy to significantly improve. If your shop has a side or rear entrance, make sure it’s well-lit and secure when not in use, and that any fencing that protects the area is secure.

  1. Use technology to improve security

There have been significant advances in the technology used in both CCTV cameras and to store images, making it a much better option for shop owners. New remotely-monitored systems could be an attractive option for smaller shops or remote outlets with few staff. This would give added security to businesses which, day-to-day are more isolated or that staff are not able to monitor at all times.

A panic alarm can be a great tool for staff to respond to the threat of violent crime when it happens. It silently notifies the authorities who can respond very quickly.

  1. Create the perfect shop layout

Simple adjustments to the layout of the shop can make it much easier for staff to stay on top of safety needs. Make sure that the whole shop is well lit, and the cashier has a clear line of sight down the aisles, particularly with any high-value goods or alcohol.

  1. Keep staff trained and informed

Though it is important to protect premises and stock, the main concern should always be the protection of staff.

Proper training will make sure staff are fully aware of what their responsibilities are. Make sure that they understand that their physical safety and security is far more valuable than cash or items in the shop.

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