OPINION: Employers can act to reduce risk and harm

THE rise in violent crime targeting businesses this year can have a significant effect on those businesses, their workers and their families.

For victims, the reported effects of violent crime include: nightmares or problems sleeping, sudden sweating or heart palpitations, becoming easily startled by noise or unexpected touch, emptiness or numbness, grief and loss, shock and disbelief, fear or anxiety, feelings of self-blame, shame or guilt, outbursts of anger or feeling irritable, feelings of helplessness or panic, feeling detached and isolated from others, tiredness and lethargy, denial or trying to avoid anything to do with the trauma, sadness, depression or loss of self-esteem, difficulty concentrating or remembering, concern over burdening others with your problems.

Regardless of the actions of police in catching offenders and reducing crime, employers can and should take action.

They have a legal duty under the recently introduced Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) and they are in a good position to make a difference.

So, how can Hunter employers do more? First they can get informed. They can do research, speak with police and businesses in their area to understand how these crimes could affect them. They need to ask questions like: what are the most common crimes in my area; when do they occur; who tends to commit them; and what can we do to prevent them?

After gathering this information, employers can sit down with their workers and conduct a risk assessment. There are a number of tools to help with this process, but it's the process itself that will keep workers safe.

To conduct a robust assessment, look at the big picture and think through all the possible scenarios.

Then work on devising "controls" - strategies that will modify (for the better) the risk that violent crime poses to a business. They can help eliminate or minimise the risk that violent crime will occur, and mitigate the effects should something occur.

While it's recommended that businesses speak with a security expert, some examples of controls that can be taken include: providing workers with training, using safety measures such as "transfer trays" during high-risk hours, displaying signage indicating limited cash storage, having more than one staff member working, installing good lighting, installing bulletproof windows that provide good visibility outside, installing surveillance mirrors and CCTV cameras, recording images, installing wide counters (between workers and customers) and cables running horizontally at appropriate intervals above counter (to deter possible offenders from jumping the counter) or a bulletproof glass screen/cubicle, installing an entry warning buzzer, and installing automatic doors that can be locked at any time.

Some mitigation plans might include: developing cash control procedures (for example, have a float limit, have a time-lock and/or drop safe), installing a silent alarm at the main cash site linked to a security company, installing panic/duress alarms; providing an employee-assistance program for counselling and ensuring workers use it after an incident, programming emergency numbers into telephones, ensuring CCTV cameras are positioned so they can be useful to police, and installing markings on the main entry/exit door to assist identifying an offender's height.

Once a business has come up with a strategy, based on a robust risk assessment, it needs to be followed.

It should also be revisited at regular intervals, or when something occurs, and reviewed and possibly improved.

While this may seem onerous, especially on top of all the other pressures associated with running a business, it's not hard to imagine that this inconvenience is much better than the potential emotional, physical, legal and financial consequences of doing nothing.

Safe Work Australia has developed a code of practice, titled How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks.

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