Body worn camera technology: protecting staff from attack

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Body worn cameras can reduce the risk of workers suffering violence and aggression from members of the public, making them an ideal protective tool in environments such as retail and healthcare.

From waiting room posters reminding patients to respect hospital staff to advertising campaigns warning public transport users that abusive behaviour won’t be tolerated, it’s hard to ignore the worrying reality that the staff we rely on to support us face intimidation and anti-social behaviour every day of their working lives.

Yet more worrying, it’s clear that the tight restrictions and ongoing uncertainty about the Covid-19 pandemic have heightened feelings of frustration among the general public, and for some, this has escalated into confrontational behaviour. For example, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) estimates there have been 40,000 incidents of violence against shopworkers, with 40 per cent of survey respondents reporting an increase in violence and aggression since the pandemic began.

Some evidence has shown that body worn cameras have helped to reduce complaints and increase safety. Photograph: Reveal

And it’s not just staff who are suffering. Many surveys have shown that Brits feel angry when they see others ignoring Covid guidance when out and about. Anti-social behaviour and escalating aggression aren’t good for anyone.

Of course, this isn’t a new problem; frontline workers in many industries have long reported instances of such behaviour. However, Covid-19 has brought the issue into sharp focus, and – more optimistically – may finally have provoked an appropriate, progressive response.

Organisations can and must do more to look after their employees. But what does this look like and how do we get there? The answer is by deploying a combination of innovative technology and human intervention.

Tech for good

From closed circuit television (CCTV) in store, location services for lone workers and SOS apps on mobile handsets, recent developments in technology have helped organisations take big strides forward in their mission to protect their public-facing staff.

One such development is the advancement of body worn camera technology, which has swiftly evolved from bulky and cumbersome equipment worn by a small handful of police officers, to becoming a true wearable with proven value-add for workers across a number of industries.

We already know that cameras provide support, reassurance and confidence to both staff and the public and that they’re proven to reduce complaints and increase safety by de-escalating confrontational situations, limiting the use of force, and therefore improving productivity.

Indeed, the UK police service has long recognised that body worn cameras can help prevent conflict. Once people know they’re being filmed, and even see themselves on camera, they’re less likely to behave aggressively. Furthermore, if an altercation does take place, cameras can record accurately what happened. Importantly, footage can also be used as a training tool for staff, as they learn how to deal with difficult situations.

Alasdair Field, CEO of Reveal

Reveal is a leading provider of body worn cameras to police, health trusts and retailers, and during the pandemic we have seen an 80 per cent increase in new retail customers, including Matalan and JD Sports. We also currently have trials underway with Boots. We expect the role of body worn cameras to increase in prominence for public-facing staff as lockdown restrictions are eased and the benefits of using technology to keep staff safe are recognised.

Human intervention

Of course, to be accepted by consumers, any recording technology must be safe, secure and adhere to data protection legislation such as GDPR. But more pertinently, even fully secure and compliant body worn camera technology cannot solve the challenge alone.

Equipping staff with the right knowledge and skills is just as crucial to controlling conflict, and the savviest employers know that the most valuable tool in diffusing confrontation is employees themselves.

For example, as retailers have learnt to adjust to life in the pandemic, many have deployed additional staff to meet customers at the door, explain social distancing requirements and control numbers in store.

If we can provide these security and frontline staff with training in de-escalation techniques, we can have confidence that they’ll be capable of appropriately managing conflicts with customers who resist mask-wearing, distancing and store capacity limits.

Learnings from the previous lockdowns are also being put into practice. The introduction of separate exit and entrance points when there are long queues is becoming increasingly commonplace, to alleviate tension and preserve social distancing.

Finally, we’re now seeing organisations recognise the human impact of abuse and intimidation. In the past, such incidents were all too often dismissed as ‘business crimes’ or ‘part of the job’. But today many firms are putting in place a myriad of support to both deal with, and prevent, violent crime against their workers.

Time for action

Whatever happens to people’s behaviour as we eventually emerge from lockdown, it is time to take action to protect workers who serve the public and ensure that they can do their job without fear of abuse or physical assault.

Indeed, while legislation has been passed in Scotland which makes it a specific offence to assault or threaten staff (bbc.in/2T17EiX), the focus for employers must be to prevent abuse in the first place. We must look to a blend of human intervention and innovative technology and know that the outcome – should we get it right – will have positive repercussions not just for employees, but for the whole of society.

Alasdair Field is CEO of Reveal

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