With the recent social media calls for boycotts of service stations there is growing concern within the industry for the safety of staff. In light of the calls for violence, confrontation, theft and blockading of retail fuel sites, that have formed part of the ‘fuel boycott’ campaign, staff safety is of paramount concern and fuel operators are encouraged to engage with staff on the steps necessary to stay safe in the face potentially threatening protests.
While the ‘fuel boycott’ is calling for customers to ‘stay away’ from fuel sites on the nominated weekend, some of the interested parties have called for more drastic and concerning action, including the theft of fuel, physical confrontation with staff and even blockading of sites to prevent others entering. Like any altercation on a retail fuel site stafety is a concern. As a threshold mass hazard facility a service station forecourt is a place where safety is a key concern at all times, in situations where people are aggressive, in large numbers or obstructing equipment or exits, the potential for injury or damage increases and calls for a higher level of vigilance.
The first step in keeping staff safe is to discuss the situation with staff the situation and ensure that they are aware of the concerns and the responses to take. Staff have the right to work free from violence or threat, even from customers, and staff should be reminded that if they are feeling threatened or at risk they should contact the police to address the situation and not take matters into their own hands.
If there is a concern, based on the situation, that there will be an unsafe release of fuel product, such as theft or general spraying, then the access to the fuel should be removed through activating the Emergency Stop Buttons. Staff should be reminded that an altercation only escalates when fuel is involved, so if there is an altercation onsite then the fuel should be contained by activating the Emergency Stop Buttons.
If there is a concern that the activities of the public is restricting access to or from the site, such as a blockade either on the site itself or just outside the site boundary, then there is a situation where the emergency exits and access points for emergency response are obstructed. In such a situation the staff should be reminded that it is a requirement that the site be accessible to emergency services to respond to any incident and that as such any blockade should be notified to the police to address.
Importantly staff should be reminded that their role, when dealing with aggressive customers, is to calmly and politely attempt to deescalate the situation. If that doesn’t work and the staff feel threatened they should make themselves physically safe (retreat to a safe place) and contact the police. Under no circumstances should the staff engage in an argument with an aggressive customer, as this escalates the situation and makes a physical altercation more likely. Staff should be explicitly reminded that under no circumstances should they physically engage (fight, restrain, remove) aggressive customers.
While, in the main, it is unlikely that the threats posted on social media will translate to action onsite, it is incumbent on the business to recognise the threats and to respond accordingly, discussing the risks, controls and responses with the staff and engaging with the staff to actively manage and respond to any situations that arise onsite.