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Assaulted whilst working alone: how to ease the risks

Isolated work carries the extra risk that help will not be readily available.
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Assaulted whilst working alone: how to ease the risks

Assaulted whilst working alone: how to ease the risks

19 October 2020

By Gaby Grammeno

A young worker, new to the job, was assaulted during a robbery by three males at a 24-hour service station. It was during the night shift whilst they were working alone. WorkSafe Western Australia issued a Safety Alert after the incident.

The three men entered separately at around 9pm and waited until all the other customers had left. One man then jumped over the hip-height counter and violently assaulted the worker.

After the offenders had left, the worker phoned 000 and was taken to hospital suffering abrasions and bruising. He subsequently resigned and had trauma counselling.


Risks of working alone

Isolated work is known to carry the extra risk that help will not be readily available during an emergency. And since banks and other such targets for robbery ramped up the measures in place for protection of employees – such as screens, CCTV and impediments to access – lone workers at other, ‘softer’ targets such as service stations and convenience stores have been at higher risk.

In the present case, other factors contributing to the risk were that the worker was young, inexperienced and working unsupervised, the service station was located on a main road and surrounded by carparks on three sides, the counter was hip-height with no jump wires or screens, and there was no pre-payment option at pump or a night service window – customers had to prepay inside the service station for fuel from 9pm.
 

Employers’ responsibilities for managing the risks of isolated work

There are many options for reducing the risk of violence and robbery at service stations and other such workplaces where staff are likely to be working alone at night. It is up to the employer – in consultation with staff – to ensure that a site-specific risk assessment is carried out, then to consider which combination of risk control measures will be most appropriate in the circumstances. Employers must ensure that the optimal set of measures are put in place, as far as is reasonably practicable.

Physical modifications to the workplace can offer a significant level of protection, for example, installing higher, deeper counters, screens or jump wires. It’s also important to ensure that any access points to the counter (such as a gate) are substantial, properly locked at all times and the lock cannot be reached from the public side.

Good lighting and clear visibility in the forecourt, parking areas and in the shop, with mirrors for areas of blocked vision, can also help to reduce the risk.

On-site security cameras and signage saying the premises are monitored, together with signs saying large amounts of cash aren’t kept on the premises may also deter potential offenders.

For petrol stations, alternative payment options are an excellent risk control measure. For example, options to pay at the pump, pay by mobile app, or pay at a night fill window.

Alarms are another standard personnel protection device. These can either be under-bench duress alarms, alarm keys on the till, or personal duress alarms for staff to use when they move away from the counter.

Staff should be trained in safe cash-handling procedures, emergency procedures and the operation of security devices, and the confidentiality of those procedures should be emphasised.

In some situations, it may be appropriate to train staff in how to manage violent and aggressive situations (including armed hold-up) on induction, and provide refresher training.

If it’s feasible, consider having two employees working during high risk periods (eg at opening and closing times).

If an assault or other incident does occur, it may have a serious impact on the psychological well-being of a staff member concerned, even if any physical injuries are not severe. This is especially likely if the employee is young or otherwise vulnerable. Post incident counselling should therefore be offered, and management should follow up any incident by offering support and checking on the recovery and progress of anyone affected.

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