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Body Worn Cameras, the First Line of Defence

December 4, 2023 by Chris Allcard

With retail workers facing greater levels of violence, threats and abuse than ever before, Chris Allcard, lone worker services director at Reliance Protect, looks at why body worn cameras are becoming the first line of defence.

These are tough times for the UK high street and although the festive season will provide a much-needed sales boost, many retailers will be concerned that it could also mean that their staff experience greater levels of violence and abuse. Despite initiatives such as Respect for Shopworkers Week recently taking place, the latest research has found that this problem is getting worse.

Facts and figures

The Retail Trust’s recent survey of 1,000 retail staff found that two-thirds think verbal and physical attacks have got worse in the last two years, more than two thirds said they were stressed or anxious about going into work and nearly half had considered quitting their jobs. A separate Retail Trust survey of 2,000 shoppers discovered that nearly half admit to getting annoyed with a retail worker and, of these, 81 per cent lost their temper or became aggressive.

Although these numbers might come as a surprise, perhaps they shouldn’t. Most of us will have witnessed shoppers getting frustrated about items being out of stock and not enough staff on checkouts, and watched tensions escalate rapidly. A poll of 3,500 retail workers, conducted by the Usdaw, found that more than one in 10 retail staff were assaulted by a customer in 2021. 12 per cent said they had been assaulted in the last 12 months, up from nine per cent in 2020. In the run-up to Christmas, when shops are busier, this can become more common and as the cost of living crisis deepens more people will also become desperate enough to steal, which can put retail staff in danger when challenging perpetrators.

Inside out

It’s not just in stores that retail staff face danger. For example, delivery drivers can often get caught in the firing line for a variety of reasons, with theft and misplaced goods top of this list. This doesn’t just apply to those delivering to domestic premises – those taking items to shops from wholesalers also experience these issues.

With a growing number of cases of people fraudulently claiming that their deliveries never arrived, delivery drivers are in an invidious position. Drivers are also being targeted by those looking to steal goods and the number of reported parcel thefts grew by 287 per cent between 2019 and 2022, from 914 reported thefts between August 2018 and July 2019, to 3,540 reported thefts in the same period between 2021 and 2022.

That’s not to say that delivery drivers are always the innocent parties and instances where those employed to deliver goods are found to be guilty of stealing items are on the rise. With margins tighter than ever retailers can ill afford this kind of internal shrinkage. Put simply, it has a direct correlation with profit – the higher the shrinkage, the lower the profits.

Call of duty

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work related violence as ‘any incident in which an employee is abused, threatened or assaulted by a member of the public in circumstances arising out of the course of his/her employment’. Employers must ensure the health and safety of employees while they are carrying out their duties.

They must also do all they can to avoid shrinkage and put loss prevention measures in place. The trouble is that without physical evidence or reliable footage things often come down to one person’s word against another’s. This is where body worn cameras come in.

Body worn cameras capture audio and video evidence from the perspective of the wearer. Furthermore, Reliance Protect pioneered their use and was the first specialist provider of lone worker services to deliver body worn camera solutions with live audio visual streaming into its 24/7 alarm receiving centre (ARC). Skilled and experienced Reliance Protect operators monitor the live video and audio and can escalate help and assistance quickly, including through to the emergency services.

Cause and effect

Body worn cameras are so effective because people tend to be far less aggressive if they know they are being filmed. This can be powerful in a conflict de-escalation process, for example when confronting someone in store, staff can be trained to calmly but firmly inform them that they are being filmed, and what the evidence will be used for. This can also trigger the live stream into the Reliance Protect ARC for monitoring and escalation if required.

For delivery drivers out on the road, using a body worn camera means that they are not only covered when in transit but when out of the vehicle and on foot. Retailers can also use footage from the cameras to gain visual evidence that deliveries into stores took place.

Law and order

Although the enactment of more stringent legislation to protect public service workers, including retail staff, is welcome, protecting them means putting necessary processes and procedures in place to reduce the level of risk they are exposed to. Body worn cameras are proving to be a vital tool in keeping those on the frontline of the retail sector safe and avoiding the potentially devastating consequences of violence in the workplace.