The season for retailers to manage the risks of work-related violence

On Monday 10 December 2018, the ARA published a media release announcing ARA’s support for the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association’s (SDA) ‘No One Deserves a Serve’ campaign to treat retail workers with respect throughout the busy festive season.

This campaign follows the 2017 SDA survey of 1,000 employees in retail, which found a shocking 87% of workers had experienced verbal abuse or aggressive behaviour from customers. *

On the same day as the ARA media release, The Age published an article Retailers join union in calling for customer abuse of staff to stop. The article references examples of ARA members experience with violence in retail, including:

“A customer picked up and threw a cash register after being unable to pay for food using a direct bank transfer instead of cash or credit card.”

The 2017 SDA survey identified other examples of violence in retail, including:

“Once a team member was held up with a syringe.”

“The customers swear at you when they don’t get their way.”

Work-related violence is any incident which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances arising out of, or in the course of their work.  In retail, this definition can cover a broad range of actions and behaviours that retailers may be exposed to and that can cause a risk to worker’s psychological and physical health and safety, including:

  • verbal threats;
  • sexual assault;
  • threatening with a weapon;
  • throwing objects;
  • pushing, shoving and hitting; and
  • spitting and biting


Work-related violence can occur in any industry; however, retail is an industry where violence most often occurs.  The ARA has gathered information from the membership which suggests incidents of work-related violence in retail increases during the holiday season.

With the release of the SDA campaign and ARA’s media release supporting the ‘No One Deserves a Serve’ campaign, it is timely to remind retailers of their primary duty of care to ensure retail workers are afforded the highest level of health and safety protection.  It is also necessary to remind retailers that they must take a proactive approach to ensure workers psychological and physical health and safety is not at risk.

The ARA reached out to one of their members, The Reject Shop, about their approach in preventing and responding to work-related violence.

 “At The Reject Shop, we’ve worked hard to ensure that our Team understands this type of behaviour is unacceptable and not part of the job.  Improved knowledge has also resulted in better reporting and allows our Support functions to better target Stores that require support”.

Retailers are urged to take a proactive approach to work-related violence.  This involves applying the risk management approach:

1. Identify work-related violence risks in your workplace

It’s not enough to wait for a violent incident to occur in the workplace to do something about it.  Retailers must pre-empt work tasks and activities where workers may be exposed to work-related violence.

Through consultation with workers and other relevant stakeholders, and with consideration of previous incidents and retail industry data, retailers can identify the work tasks and activities as well as locations where workers are at risk of exposure to work-related violence.

2. Assess the likelihood of workers being harmed and severity of injury, from exposure to work-related violence  

For each work task/activity that presents a work-related violence risk to your workers, determine the likelihood of a worker being harmed the associated consequences.  Example: a retail worker who is verbally abused often by customers may sustain a psychological injury.

3. Control the risks associated with work-related violence by eliminating or significantly reducing the risk

Consider whether it is possible to eliminate the work tasks/activities where there is a risk of work-related violence.

If it is not practicable to eliminate, then consider what can be implemented to significantly reduce the risk.  This may include:

  • installing communication and alarm systems,
  • installing security systems,
  • separating workers from the public via protective barriers,
  • implementing a procedure for working alone,
  • carrying out comprehensive hazard and incident report investigations to identify key contributing factors,
  • identify training needs, example: dealing with difficult customers, and provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision
  • create customer awareness of a zero-tolerance violence policy through signage
  • establish a work-related violence response process. This might include duress alarms, personal duress alarms, and emergency plans established in partnership with police

The Reject Shop’s National Health and Safety Manager, Keith Govias shared with the ARA three approaches The Reject Shop has taken towards reducing the risk of work-related violence in their stores, including:

  • Work-related violence hazard awareness with the teams through team talks, training and display of posters
  • Implementation of reporting to the business, physical security and police to identify solutions to high theft factors and alternative interventions of offenders
  • Developing posters targeting anti-social behaviour and raising awareness about the impact of work-related violence

These controls are practical and can be applied within any retail environment.

Tip: when developing work-related violence awareness and training for your workforce, ensure the following is addressed:

»   Work-related violence within retail awareness

»   Your organisations work-related violence policies and procedures

»   Emergency responses, example: how to respond to incidents of violence in the workplace

»   How to report incidents of work-related violence

»   Work-related violence scenarios common to the retail industry and to your organisation/work environment

»   Support systems available to workers who have been exposed to work-related violence

4. Review your risk control measures to ensure they are working and are effective in protecting your workers against work-related violence

Controlling the risk of work-related violence doesn’t stop.  It is an ongoing process.  To ensure effective risk controls have been implemented, you must have processes in place to regularly review your work-related violence risk control measures.  If more can be done to control the risk, then do it.

For further information on the prevention and risk management of work-related violence, including how to respond if an incident occurs, please refer to your relevant State/Territory health and safety Regulator website for guidance, example: Preventing and responding to work-related violence, WorkSafe QLD. 

If you require specific support in the development of a work-related violence management system, please contact the Australian Retailers Association at 1300 368 041



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