By Daniel Hunter

Top retailers have come together to ensure the best possible measures are in place to protect shop staff from violence, after the latest British Retail Consortium (BRC) annual crime survey found more than 35,000 staff had suffered physical or verbal abuse or threats during a 12 month period.

There were 26 incidents per 1000 employees, an increase of 83 per cent on 2010. The rise was chiefly in verbal abuse and is partly the result of retailers and the BRC urging retail workers to report every incident to help build up a fuller picture and to encourage the police and criminal justice system to give the problem the attention it deserves.

The BRC is today (Monday) publishing new guidance, Tackling Violence Against Staff, which is endorsed by shop workers' union Usdaw. It shows the extent of action being taken by retailers to keep staff safe, including conflict management training being offered to some employees.

The new guidelines are the result of an audit of policies being used by BRC retailers and aim to help retailers of all sizes improve staff protection. The BRC says the police and criminal justice system need to respond more effectively when retail staff are attacked or abused. There should also be more support for retailers when they enforce policies such as Challenge 25 to prevent underage purchasing of alcohol and cigarettes.

"Retailers invest considerable resources in protecting their workers, stock and property," British Retail Consortium Head of Crime, Catherine Bowen, said.

"Protecting staff from violence means taking many factors into account, from the positioning of in-store CCTV to how those who do carry out attacks are prosecuted. Companies are doing a lot to prevent trouble occurring in the first place, for example by giving customer service staff training in how to avoid conflict.

"Our new guidelines will help businesses be sure they've done all they can to prevent staff from being attacked or abused. The question that remains is whether the police and criminal justice system are doing all within their power to protect the country's three million retail employees. Those who are violent or threatening towards our staff are as guilty of a crime as anyone who behaves that way on the street. The police response needs to reflect that."

Usdaw General Secretary, John Hannett, said: "Usdaw welcomes these guidelines from the BRC. The BRC's support for the union's Freedom from Fear campaign has been very helpful. Working together we have seen a significant reduction in serious assaults in the last five years.

"However we share the BRC's concern that reports of threats and verbal abuse have escalated and the rise in robberies over the last year shows that there is no room for complacency. Usdaw is committed to working with the BRC and with employers to make it clear that abuse is not part of the job."

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