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Protecting retail heroes

June 21, 2024 by Chris Allcard

How body-worn cameras can support social distancing and face mask compliance

Retailers are facing challenging circumstances, not least in managing adherence to social distancing and face mask-wearing requirements. The commitment and sacrifices of retail staff have been recognised during the pandemic, with #ClapforCarers transforming into #ClapforHeroes to highlight the work of all key workers during this time. But equally, the sad truth remains that many retail workers feel in danger – not just from the coronavirus itself, but an increased risk of confrontation and aggression, particularly when asking customers to queue and wear face masks.

The scale of the challenge

Three-quarters of retail staff say that abuse has been higher than normal during the pandemic with 85% stating that they have been the victim of verbal abuse, 57% were threatened and 9% were physically assaulted. From March to August 2020, retailer Iceland reported 650 cases of verbal abuse and 30 assaults.

At the same time, many retail employees are concerned about infection and passing Covid-19 onto family members and friends. Low face-mask adherence in stores is causing fear and resentment amongst shop workers – and other shoppers. As one worker remarked, “As a staff member it’s annoying to see people thinking they’re above the rules and be so blatantly blase about it, but when you see an elderly person on their own with a mask on saying they’re scared to be there, that’s when it really upsets me.”

A lack of resources

This is worsened by the fact that many small retail shops, such as local convenience stores don’t have the resources to monitor face mask-wearing at all shops, during opening hours. The larger retailers with millions a week in revenue can afford third-party security personnel where necessary to police mask-wearing but this isn’t financially possible for smaller local stores. Mask-wearing is not being enforced as a result, with some stores fearing reprisals against staff. Instead, many are looking to the police to uphold Covid-19 rules, however, many police forces are stretched due to the pandemic.

Iceland is one store that isn’t asking staff to enforce mask-wearing. It explained in a statement that, “We do not expect [our staff] to confront the small minority of customers who aggressively refuse to comply with the law.” Only a third of Iceland’s stores have security guards.

Convenience stores also lack the resources to enforce face mask bans and, due to this, only 57% of store owners are willing to enforce mask-wearing. As Association of Convenience Stores, chief executive James Lowman states, “It is not a policy that is feasible in small stores. In a supermarket, you’ve got security guards and colleagues while in a small shop, you’re likely to only have around two colleagues there. It is asking too much for them to challenge people who may become abusive or violent [when asked to wear a mask].”

Validating medical exemption

Staff are also finding it difficult to verify claims of medical exemption. As one store manager explains, “Some customers wear the flower lanyard [to signify hidden disabilities], others will produce medical papers as evidence. But with people who seem relatively young, healthy and able-bodied, it can be very difficult for us when they have no proof that they are exempt.”

In such cases, customers are often asked to leave until they can provide evidence – but this gives another situation where aggression could then occur against store workers.

Unions are concerned

Additionally, trade unions have expressed concern about the safety of staff. Unite has called for urgent action to make mask-wearing mandatory. Unions have also called for additional protections for store workers against assault and abuse. Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, states, “Retail staff have been key workers in the fight against coronavirus. Yet every day colleagues are abused and assaulted at work. This is completely unacceptable and we need Parliament to pass legislation to provide better protection to retail workers.”

Over 100,000 members of the public have signed a petition to push the UK Parliament to debate higher protections for retail workers.

Technology can support staff safety

It is clear that both retail leaders and the Government must find new ways to protect store workers, while still maintaining a pleasant and welcoming shop experience.

One tactic that is rising in popularity is through deploying body-worn cameras to be used by security staff and store workers placed on the door and tasked with enforcing Covid-19 rules.

First seen in law enforcement, body-worn cameras are fast-becoming popular in the retail sector as an aid to social distancing and to keep shop workers safe. They can also augment existing CCTV systems, providing security teams with on-the-ground, real-time insight into what store staff are seeing and experiencing.

Body-worn cameras for queue management

One increasing use for body-worn cameras is during queue management. Many workers are now placed at the entrances to stores to check that shoppers are wearing face masks before they enter a shop. Difficult situations may arise if an individual refuses to wear a mask or observe social distancing. Body-worn cameras can help workers record any such event capturing the video, often in High Definition, with High Definition audio . Importantly, they can also reduce the likelihood of escalation and harm to the wearer. It is widely acknowledged that body-worn cameras can prevent situations escalating when people know that they are being filmed. Video and audio footage can also be given as evidence to authorities if needed.

Where shoppers claim to be medically exempt, their proof and statement can also be recorded via body-worn cameras in case it’s needed at a later time. Security teams can also cross-check footage to see if an individual has consistently provided exemption evidence – or if they forget their proof during a future shopping trip.

Several retailers are already using body-worn video in this way. The Co-op has equipped staff with body-worn cameras across 250 stores and Waitrose has followed suit.

Monitoring large stores

Body-worn cameras can also help retailers monitor large areas such as superstores, shopping centres and food warehouses. On-the-ground footage from body-worn cameras streamed live can cover blind spots not covered by static cameras. When connected with other video sources such as vehicle cameras and IP cameras, retail leaders can get detailed oversight of everything happening in a store.

In the near future, artificial intelligence (AI) can alert store staff if shoppers are not a safe distance from each other, if a site becomes overcrowded, or even when shoppers pick up items and put them back. Store workers can then take appropriate action, like sanitising products that have been touched.

Longer-term applications

Once the pandemic ends, retailers will find further benefits of implementing body-worn cameras.

Improving customer service

Research in other applications has shown that service users feel safer when in environments where staff are wearing body-worn cameras. This could be an important longer term benefit, creating a more positive experience for the customer. Body-worn camera footage can also improve customer service and monitor staff performance. Recordings can be used for staff training and to provide detailed feedback of what store workers are doing right – and highlight opportunities for improvement.

Trainers and managers can wear cameras to record the best way of doing something, such as interacting with customers at check-out points or directing customers to queue during busy periods. Any changes to customer service practices can also be relayed via video – which is generally faster to record and update when a process changes compared to writing documents.

Recording evidence

Staff on the shop floor wearing body-worn cameras can use the devices to record any suspicious behaviour. This can provide valuable evidence if theft or fraud is occurring, and also protect the worker if they choose to engage.

Enduring protection

Body-worn cameras will continue to protect staff during potentially higher risk pinch points in the day, such as opening and closing a store (often alone), issuing refunds, dealing with antisocial behaviour, and refusing to serve alcohol to minors or drunk customers. They will continue to provide a deterrent and vital evidence-gathering tool that complements existing video surveillance.

How Reliance Protect can help

Since 2006, Reliance has been a market-leading in video security and surveillance, particularly in protecting lone workers. Reliance is working with some of the UK’s biggest employers across all sectors, from retail and logistics to social care and local authorities. It is on it’s third framework provider offering lone worker protection and body worn camera solutions to the NHS and wider public services.

Our body-worn cameras are designed to be lightweight and user-friendly. Encouraging store workers to wear and engage with them. They can be easily attached and worn on uniforms, without being cumbersome, hindering store workers as they move and work around a shop. They are also designed to not be intimidating for staff and customers.

Our range of body worn cameras have the option to live stream the footage both back within the organisation such as onsite security office or central monitoring centre, and to our in-house 24/7/365 Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) where trained operators can monitor and escalate quick responses as appropriate to the situation.

Reliance Protect leads the industry in demonstrating its capabilities through accreditation, including BS 8484; ISO 14001; BS 5979 Category II; BS 7858; BS 7984; and ISO9001.

A key element of Reliance Protect’s service is providing easily digestible management information. Incidents, usage patterns, and behavioural trends can be highlighted to management to inform strategic decision-making and to help organisations stay ahead of security and operational risks. This information can also be pushed into a customer’s own internal business analytics systems to enable a greater level of integration and insight across wider security systems.

Reliance Protect’s VideoManager portal makes such insights accessible on desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Retail leaders are able to review and manage video footage from all cameras deployed across their stores including body-worn video and CCTV. This helps real-time decision-making and incident management.

All video data is also stored on the cloud, with no on-premises installation or ongoing IT support required. This particularly helps retailers with many local small stores, as software updates, patching and upgrades can be carried out remotely at less time and expense.

Furthermore, Reliance Protect solutions are able to integrate with broader security infrastructure, such as CCTV and access control, for additional insights and functionality.

The Reliance Protect team understands that every retail environment is unique and different roles have different risks and needs. Our experts work closely with every retail leader on a full and detailed risk assessment that identifies the best personal safety devices (including cameras) for each worker.

Key takeaways

Retail leaders are facing unprecedented challenges in keeping customers and staff safe during the pandemic. One way to achieve this is by deploying body-worn cameras to de-escalate difficult situations and record evidence.

Investing in body-worn cameras will also provide long-term benefits to customer service, training, continuing to protect staff and shoppers, and in collaborating with local authorities. With this, body-worn cameras offer a unique opportunity, ensuring short-term security during the pandemic, with enduring benefits that can be realised for years to come.

Whatever your needs, Reliance Protect is there to help your organisation succeed. Get in touch with our expert team today and discover how body-worn cameras can support your staff.

For further information please contact Reliance Protect on tel: 01977 696649 or email: protectsales@reliancehightech.co.uk