When you think about grocery safety, you might focus on things like proper food handling and slip and fall prevention. These are key issues, certainly, but they’re not the only risks that grocery stores face. Workplace violence is a growing threat. Here’s how you can prepare your team and keep your workers and customers safe.

Understanding Workplace Violence

Workplace violence can refer to various types of violence against workers. In can happen in any type of workplace, but the CDC says that retail work is one of the highest risk jobs.

Some incidents of workplace violence are caused by customers, while others stem from conflicts between workers or between workers and partners or family members who visit the store. Workplace violence may also be the result of criminal intent, and it can include active shooting, armed robbery and sexual assault.

Active Shootings Are on the Rise

There are many types of workplace violence, but active shootings can be one of the deadliest and most frightening.

According to the FBI, there were 40 active shooter incidents in 2020. This represents a 33% increase from 2019 and a 100% increase from 2016.

In 2021, an active shooter opened fire in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. According to AP News, 10 people were killed. Grocery stores and other retail locations are especially vulnerable to active shooter risks because they are open to the public and often contain crowds. The FBI says that 26.7% of active shootings occurred in businesses that were open to pedestrian traffic between 2000 and 2018.

Theft Is a Growing Problem

Some incidents of workplace violence are associated with various types of theft, including robbery and organized shoplifting rings.

Recently, organized shoplifting rings have made headlines. In some of these incidents, multiple shoplifters target a store at the same time. Although these incidents are not always violent, they can be. According to Buy Safe America, 75.9% of the retailers surveyed said someone engaging in organized retail crime physically assaulted an associate, and 41% said that a weapon was used to harm an associate.

Angry Customers Can Get Violent

We’ve all heard of Black Friday shoppers fighting over the last coveted item. When customers don’t get what they want, they can get angry. Some of them get violent.

As supply chain issues lead to out-of-stock items and frustrated customers, this may be more of an issue. Dealing with angry customers may also be more difficult if stores are short-staffed, as many have been. To make matters worse, grocery store workers may also find themselves caught in the middle of disputes over masks and other COVID safety precautions.

In just one example, News on Six reports that a worker at a grocery store in Salina, Oklahoma was knocked out by an angry customer. The assault resulted in a concussion, a swollen neck and a busted lip.

Your Store May Be Liable

If a customer or criminal who is not associated with your store commits a violent assault, you might think it’s not your responsibility. The courts might disagree.

According to Claims Journal, a Georgia appeals court upheld a $43 million premises liability verdict against CVS Pharmacy. The company was accused of failing to take security measures to prevent the shooting of a customer in 2012.

Some things may be out of your control. However, if crime and violence are known risks in your area and you don’t take the appropriate precautions, you could be held legally and financially liable.

Prioritize Safety and Security

Some basic measures can help you prevent violent incidents at your store. Common steps may include hiring security personnel and installing security systems.

The CDC offers advice on managing workplace violence risks:

  • Avoid covering windows with signs or displaces.
  • Provide adequate lighting inside and outside.
  • Make sure alarms and cameras work.
  • Make sure workers know security and safety plans.
  • Make sure workers know which doors should stay locked and check those doors.
  • Make sure workers know what to do in an emergency.

Train Your Workers

It’s common for businesses to conduct safety training and drills for fires, earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. You can prepare for workplace violence in the same way.

The FBI has a training video on the run-hide-fight strategy that can be used during an active shooter situation, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a booklet with more details on how to respond to an active shooter. Individuals are encouraged to evacuate if possible and call 911 when they are safe. Individuals who can not evacuate are encouraged to hide. Taking action against the active shooter is encouraged only as a last resort.

Download our Workplace Violence Safety Tips Sheet for more information about protecting your workers from the threat of violence.