Law firm warns retailers of the risk of leaving employees alone this Christmas

As the countdown to the festive season begins, law firm, Gardner Leader reminds retailers juggling holiday requests to check their policy for lone workers following a recent health & safety breach.

This warning from one of the largest law firms in Berkshire comes after convenience store operator McColl was fined £150,000 for failing to protect its staff during a series of store robberies in Merseyside.

The case was brought by Wirral Council, who argued that the company’s “failure to carry out risk assessments for shop staff exposed them to a risk of workplace violence”, as well as other health and safety breaches.

The six incidents took place between April 2011 and February 2012. One robbery left a shop manager with concussion, another member of staff was threatened with a knife, and some of the staff said they were so traumatised, they did not feel they could work in a shop again.

At the hearing, the court heard that shop staff had raised concerns about the lack of lockable doors into back room areas and the need for CCTV.

In finding the company guilty of the charges, the judge pointed to the “systemic failings both on and before the date of the actual robberies” and stressed the importance of risk assessment saying: “The absence of proper and adequate risk assessments is where things started to go fundamentally wrong”.

Although there are no general restrictions on working alone, the starting point for any employer is Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which requires employers to take care of the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees, as far as reasonably practicable. This is together with Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which requires employers to assess the health and safety risks to which employees are exposed whilst at work.

Michelle Di Gioia, partner in the dispute resolution team and health and safety specialist at Gardner Leader, said: “It’s vital to ensure that any lone worker is given a thorough risk assessment, just like any other category or process, so they are not placed in more risk whilst undertaking their job.

“Clearly, some types of business are more likely to be the target of criminals or other work-related violence. As well as the retail sector, industry should also be aware, as often warehouses with stock or machinery could be the target of a robbery. Even an office worker might be considered vulnerable without adequate safety measures in place to protect them.

“For many retailers it often comes down to money. Many retailers have abandoned their no lone working at night policies due to rising costs, but the more vulnerable the business, the more carefully you should consider the associated risks.

“Also, workers have as much right to bring civil proceedings against the employer if there is a clear case of negligence on the part of the business resulting in loss or damage to the worker. So ensure to have a  clear policy in place and ensure that everyone in the company knows, understands and implements it.”

A useful guide to lone working is published by the Health and Safety Executive and can be downloaded from its website: