Is retail rage overtaking road rage?

Australia’s biggest supermarket chains are scrambling to combat retail rage as frustrated shoppers vent their anger over the removal of single-use plastic bags.

The removal of single-use plastics is part of a national push to reduce waste.

Consumer complaints forced one major retailer to reverse its decision on charging customers 15 cents for a reusable plastic bag, giving shoppers extra time to come to terms with the change.

Retail rage has been a term to loosely describe behaviour by consumers as they compete for deeply discounted product, such as Boxing Day frenzies.

More recently, Black Friday sales in the US and UK have become a setting for consumer misbehaviour with reports of fighting, pepper-spraying, dumping merchandise, ransacking stores, robberies and even shootings.

The ‘rage’ has not only been directed at fellow consumers but also retail employees.

In the case of the single-use plastic bag ban, one man put his hands around a supermarket worker’s throat, the West Australian newspaper reported, while stores are putting on more staff to help customers get used to the change.

These incidents therefore bring to focus the importance of retail employers having safe systems of work to address the issue.

Retail workers could be exposed to threatening or violent situations on the job.

It’s a possible hazard in any workplace, but perhaps more so for anyone working with the public, cash handling, or in-demand merchandise.

Employers must identify situations that could put workers at risk of workplace violence. Recognising these real and potential hazards is the first step to eliminating or controlling them. These may include:

  • Handling cash
  • Angry/hostile customers
  • Confronting shoplifters
  • Working alone
  • Customers under the influence of drugs or alcohol (unpredictable)
  • Disgruntled employees or store managers.

Tips for dealing with potential workplace violence include:

  • Provide specific training (e.g. robbery awareness training, handling irate customers, dealing with difficult co-workers)
  • Provide specific procedures (e.g. for working late at night, handling cash, how to report an incident)
  • As an employer, if you require a worker to work alone, you must have provisions to regularly check in throughout each shift
  • Ensure the worker has an effective way to get help in an emergency (e.g. duress alarm)
  • Safeguard the workplace (e.g. good lighting/visibility, alarm system, security cameras, locked back entrance)
  • Where practicable, separate worker(s) from the public with secure, physical barriers (e.g. shatterproof transparent kiosk, locked doors)
  • Where an incident has occurred, ensure appropriate mechanisms are in place to support the worker (eg, EAP, provide opportunity for debriefing sessions, investigations).

Matt Butterworth is a CCI Workplace Consulting Safety and Risk Consultant.

► If you are concerned about retail rage and other safety matters, contact our safety experts for advice and training on (08) 9365 7415 or [email protected]

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