Introducing staff body cameras ‘a good start’

A union representative for Dunedin Woolworths supermarket employees says new body cameras for those on the shop floor are "a good start" for improving staff safety, but there is still a long way to go.

As the Otago Daily Times tipped would happen earlier this month, Woolworths New Zealand is introducing team safety cameras to all of its 191 stores this week.

The announcement comes after positive feedback from team members who had been involved in a 17-store trial of the safety initiative.

One of the trials was based at a Dunedin store.

Woolworths has seen a 75% increase in physical assaults and 148% increase in serious reportable events over the past three years.

Woolworths New Zealand director of stores Jason Stockill said the camera rollout was part of Woolworths New Zealand’s three-year, $45million investment programme to add more security measures to stores.

It was troubling these measures had to be taken, but heartening to see such good results from efforts to strengthen security and safety in stores, Mr Stockill said.

"Our team deserves to feel safe coming to work every day and what they’re dealing with is unacceptable.

"While 99% of people walking through our door are great and treat our team well, every day our team across the country are still experiencing instances of abuse and aggression from shoplifters and other offenders.

"Speaking to team members who have trialled using team safety cameras, they’ve told me they feel much safer knowing that they have a tool to record abuse or conflict when it arises — and often turning the camera on actually de-escalates the situation completely, which is fantastic."

The cameras were only turned on in the event of a security incident and footage would only be released to police as part of an investigation, he said. Woolworths staff would also be required to notify customers before recording.

Woolworths was also looking at strengthening other security measures in stores, and in the next few months would install new secure knife cabinets in produce, deli, butchery and bakery departments to reduce their visibility and accessibility to potential offenders, he said.

First Union representative Angus Wilson said violent crime was becoming more prevalent as it became harder to survive, and people were becoming more desperate.

He was pleased with the camera announcement but it needed to be coupled with safer staffing levels, he said.

"It’s a good start.

"However, I’ll always come back to the simple fact that staff are telling me one of the main reasons customers are more emboldened in front of them is because of the lack of staff on the shop floor.

"It’s all well and good to have the camera system and all the accoutrements that go behind it to make sure it works, but I think there is another option to make sure staff are even safer, and that is to have safe staffing levels on shop floors.

"When customers are waiting in long lines to get served, when they’re looking for a product in the aisles and they can’t find it, or it’s not on the shelf because it’s not been restocked, and certainly when there aren’t many staff on the floor, opportunists will take their chance.

"If there is just that one person on the shop floor, unfortunately they are in that position where they will get quite a bit of abuse.

"The cameras are good — hopefully it will remove the more violent assaults — but there’s a lot more to be done."

A Woolworths spokesman said management was conscious its steps were not going to solve all problems, but hoped the implementation of body cameras could create a safer workplace.

"We continue to work with our union partners on safe staffing levels to ensure our team and customers feel safe."