Trends & Features

When things go wrong: part 2

Whereas the last article discussed the people-led problems you may face, this one will assess what to do when things spiral out of control in the workplace. These are disasters such as fire, flooding or robbery.

Robbery is actually the odd one out here, since this could happen at any time, and cannot be prepared for.

Picture the scene: It’s late in the day. Your business has made a good profit in the past 24 hours. Then, without warning, someone bursts in and steals products or demands your money.

Sounds daft? The sort of thing that could only happen on TV? Apparently not. According to the British Retail Consortium, retail crime has sharply increased. Because of the recession, the number of thefts in shops has increased by one third in a year.

According to the BRC’s Crime Survey of 2009, an incident happened nearly every minute of every day as the amount of violent and abusive incidents against staff doubled. The amount of physical violence rose by an alarming 58 per cent, while verbal abuse grew by 37 per cent. Retail crime was found to cost UK shops £1.1billion between 2008 and 2009, a 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

What would happen if a criminal broke into your store with a weapon? The key is to stay as calm as possible. That’s all well and good in theory, but even in practice, this isn’t something you can predict.

What you can do is ensure all staff get the best possible training for a scenario such as this. This should be included in health and safety training, and in addition, staff should get adequate training on how to anticipate a confrontational event such as this.

For example, staff should learn how to read people’s expressions. They should check out both body language and any facial tics that may give them away. Is the customer looking tense? Is the customer making sharp, agitated movements? Is the customer being deliberately loud and threatening? If that’s the case, it’s time to alert security.

Despite the threat, staff should always be trained to be as calm and collected as possible in a situation like this. Getting angry, flustered and emotional will only make the situation worse. Keep the tone of voice as level as possible. Make no sudden movements. Even if the robber succeeds in taking the money, do not try to be a hero. Money and products are replaceable. Life is not.

You can also take steps to prevent robberies from happening in the first place. Make sure your store is securely locked for the hours in which the staff are not there, as well as first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

If you can afford to, utilise as many security precautions as possible, including staff and cameras. When preparing for work in the morning and when shutting up shop at night, make sure there is more than one staff member on the shop floor. That way, any potential break-in can be dealt with by a group.

Natural disasters cannot be prepared for. Flooding, for example, has all sorts of implications for a business, such as electricity, sewage risks and health and safety. In particular, flood water can carry all sorts of sewage, garbage, chemicals and other pollutants.

If the worst has happened, the first thing to do is contact the fire brigade, who can pump the water out of your premises, and turn off the electricity and gas supplies. You will then need to get in contact with your insurance broker, who can assess the damage and settle on a quote for repairs and replace any stock and/or equipment that may have been damaged.

What should happen is that first of all, the building will be thoroughly dried out. Following this, repairs will begin, with a thorough cleaning session to get rid of any lingering pollutants that may still be present. If necessary, floorboards will need to be replaced, as will skirting boards.

A thorough redecoration will be required, too. You will then need to test the electricity supply to make sure that everything is in order and that all of the settings meet the national safety standards.

Following the safety checks of both electricity and gas, hopefully you will have received compensation for equipment and stock damaged.

Fire is another traumatic experience. However, a set of rules has been implemented in order for staff to deal with such a crisis. Any workplace must comply with the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations of 1997. These rules cover places of work where one or more people are employed. They also state that premises that contain five or more workers must have a written fire risk assessment that details the appropriate fire safety work needed.

In line with the regulations, employers must take all precautions necessary to ensure the safety of employees. For example, emergency exit doors must open outwards and should neither slide nor revolve. Adequate equipment such as fire extinguishers must be provided and fire/smoke alarms installed. Additionally, all exit routes should be properly lighted and signposted.

Equipment must be maintained on a regular basis, including fire extinguishers, alarm systems and emergency exit doors.

All staff must be brought up to speed on what to do in the case of a fire, and must be fully trained by the employer. The employer must also do everything possible to protect employees from the risk of fire in the workplace, and should also prepare contingency plans in the event of an emergency.

If a fire occurs, raise the alarm immediately. Along with the fire alarm, this will give people enough warning to make for the nearest exit. The fire should not be investigated: this should be left to the fire services, who need to be alerted as quickly as possible.

Wherever there is smoke, a good plan is to crawl, or crouch down, while maintaining speed, in order to get cleaner, fresher air, and thus reduce the risk of smoke inhalation. Once the fire brigade has dealt with the blaze, they will tell you when it is safe to return.

In the case of serious damage, the pattern will be the same as the aftermath of a flood. Make sure you have adequate insurance cover in order to pay for any repairs, refits and loss of stock.

You need to be prepared for any eventuality as a business owner. While disasters can, and will, happen, be prepared for any eventuality and make sure you minimise potential risks.

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