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Wearable technology could hold the key

Abuse against public-facing workers is on the rise – but technology can protect them, says Alastair Field, the CEO of Reveal.

Working in retail, hospitality and other customer-facing roles has never been easy, but increasingly, these jobs have started to look worryingly unsafe.

Tight restrictions imposed upon the public during the pandemic have heightened feelings of frustration; for too many people, this has escalated into confrontational behaviour that, with the right technology, is largely avoidable.

The extent of aggression being targeted at shop workers has led to 69 retail leaders petitioning the Prime Minister asking for it to become a statutory offence to assault, threaten or abuse a shop worker in England or Wales, following the introduction of similar legislation in Scotland. Signed by retail giants such as Primark and John Lewis, it cites a 600pc increase in incidents at one retailer, and a further 1,000 violent incidents recorded at another retailer in the week that face coverings were made compulsory.

This isn’t a new problem; workers in many industries – from security to medical professionals – have long reported instances of unpleasant, inappropriate or aggressive behaviour. However, COVID-19 has led to an escalation that needs swiftly addressing through the smart use of technology as more of society reopens.

From CCTV in store, location services for lone workers and SOS apps on mobile handsets, recent developments in technology have helped organisations take big strides forward in their mission to protect not only their public-facing staff, but to limit loss prevention.

One such development is the advancement of body worn camera technology, which has swiftly evolved in the past decade, from bulky and cumbersome equipment worn by a small handful of police officers to a true wearable with proven value-add for workers and managers across a number of industries.

The cameras, which adhere to data protection legislation, can supplement in-store CCTV by covering off any potential blind spots. And that’s just the starting point. Body worn cameras provide support and reassurance to both staff and the public, which is why they’re proven to reduce complaints and increase safety by de-escalating confrontational situations, and limiting the use of force.

As a leading provider of these cameras, we have seen an 80pc increase in new retail clients since the pandemic and the retailers we work with tell us that their staff are more confident in handling difficult customers when wearing them. Indeed, during trials over 12 months, employees at one big brand retailer went from initial cynicism to saying that they couldn’t do their jobs without them.

The retailer found that, before cameras were provided, 75pc of staff felt moderately unsafe or very unsafe when dealing with disruptive customers. This fell to just 22 per cent feeling moderately unsafe once cameras were in use, with no one feeling very unsafe. Instead, staff say they now feel ‘empowered’ when they wear their cameras – better protected and better able to do their jobs.

Key to this is the front-facing nature of our body worn cameras. When an individual can see themselves, it deescalates behaviour. Furthermore, if an altercation does take place, cameras can record accurately what happened. And importantly, footage can also be used as a training tool for staff, as they learn how to deal with difficult situations.

The pandemic has reminded employers everywhere of the duty of care they have to their teams. So whatever happens to people’s behaviour as we emerge from lockdown, it is time to take action to protect workers that serve the public, using technology that allows them to get on with their work without fear of abuse or physical assault.


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