How agents can stay safe in their workplace: John Boulding

Scared woman at home looking through the shutters

In the wake of a recent UK travel agent being killed in a domestic violence-related attack in her workplace, some agencies have begun evaluating the safety of their workplaces for agents.

One particular big name, travel veteran and former Insight Vacations CEO, John Boulding, penned a piece on agent safety at work. He’s shared this exclusively with Travel Weekly, and poses some interesting ideas on the topic.

Check out his thoughts below, and read his blog here.

“Workplace safety and travel agents”

The UK travel industry reacted with shock and dismay this weekend, when young travel agent and mother, Cassie Hayes, died from shock and loss of blood after her throat was cut, allegedly by a jealous ex-partner, in front of horrified staff and customers at the TUI shop in Southport.

Could something similar happen again? Sadly, probably yes. An intruder attack can occur anywhere in the world whenever people are in a vulnerable situation, such as sitting at a desk or counter in an open retail environment.

Other recent examples include Jo Cox, the UK Member of Parliament, murdered while attending her constituency surgery; and the frequency of the dreadful school shootings in America and elsewhere.

We can wring our hands and blame a broken society, but the truth is there are always those unhinged few who, twisted by a real or imagined slight, will take any unguarded opportunity to release their distorted revenge in a savage act of violence.

So what can employers do about it, and just how widespread is the issue? In pubs and clubs, one can anticipate that many incidents will be drink or drug related, with or without weapons, so premises at risk tend to beef up security accordingly as a matter of course.

In general retail environments, the dangers are perhaps harder to predict. They come mainly through robbery, violence from shop-lifters or drug users, and racist, sexist or homophobic physical or verbal abuse from shoppers. Of course there is internal workplace violence too – let’s not forget this can be just as dangerous.

One would like to think that travel agencies carry a tad less risk than general retail outlets in the sense that they are retailing holidays not handbags.

We read all too often about raids on cash in foreign exchange units of course, but the Cassie Hayes murder regrettably counters any sense of security we might have otherwise have felt.

Typically, governments, industry bodies and individual firms do their best to counter the dangers. But are they doing enough? In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) dictates that every employer has a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of its employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The rules are wide-ranging and include most types of incidents in which person might be abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.

Their definitions include general physical violence – kicking, spitting, hitting or pushing; as well as more extreme violence with knives or other weapons. And verbal abuse too, including shouting, swearing or insults, racial or sexual abuse; threats and intimidation.

It is important for employers to note that HSE places as much emphasis on workplace abuse as they do on other forms of danger, such as heavy lifting, slips, trips, fixings, stairs and so on.

You’d imagine every employer would be aware of their responsibilities; but in the light of recent events it seems likely that some may need to rethink their priorities.

HSE strongly urges employers to consult with their staff, since it is front-liners who are very often in the best position to foresee threats and dangers. The organisation publishes good summary guidelines that are definitely worth a read.

One of the fundamentals in good preparedness is well rehearsed training for incidents, so everyone knows the drill and can act immediately during an event. Post trauma is a vital time too.

TUI has rightly offered counselling to its staff and customers in Southport, in recognition of the basic responsibility of companies to support and assist staff in individual and team recovery.

HSE has also published a specific example of a safety assessment template in a travel agency. It’s worth a read, but perhaps now needs a tweak to bring additional focus to provisions for acts of aggression, such as that experienced in Southport.

Travel agency owners would do well to add this to their own plans; as did education authorities around the world. Schools also found out about grudge-related violence the hard way, but now have well-rehearsed plans for minimising, responding and containing random incidents.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States, identifies that both males and females are affected. It noted in a study some years back that men were the victims in 80 per cent of overall workplace homicides.

The retail sector contributed 36 per cent of the overall total men killed in the workplace. For women in retail,  the total death toll was lower but the percentage was higher, with a full 46% of female workplace deaths taking place in a retail environment.

I’m sure that the big travel retailers will have already pulled out their health and safety manuals for a thorough cross check on procedures. Individual agents must do so too.

Agency personnel need training to be able to recognise and reduce threats where possible so, should the worst happen, they have a range of choices available to reduce their chances of being injured and increase their chances of survival.

Violent intruder preparedness consultation and training will help reduce the impact of actual violence will ensure a faster and healthier recovery if the worst should happen.

Training needs to teach staff how to:

  • Identify risk factors for workplace violence.
  • Recognise behavioral warning signs in individuals.
  • Create a customised workplace violence prevention and response program.
  • Take immediate action to reduce injuries and to reduce the risk of fatalities.
  • Alert staff and others and know how to give them second-by-second instructions that may save their lives.
  • Know how local law enforcement will respond and how to assist them.

Maybe we can’t entirely prevent intruder violence in the workplace but we can perhaps do more to minimise it. We must learn from experience and owe it to staff and customers to make their lives as safe as possible; and it will make for a better business too.

Credits: Health and Safety Executive (HSE), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), National VIPS training, Header image – Liverpool Echo.

Latest News

  • News

Worry less travel Cover-More! Cover-More refreshes brand

Not many people love buying travel insurance – something Cover-More Travel Insurance is keen to change. The insurance company has launched a refreshed brand identity that elevates the vision of travel insurance from a ‘grudge purchase’ to one grounded in a shared passion for the joy of travel and worry-free experiences. Cover-More worked closely with branding […]

  • Cruise

CLIA reveals top global speakers for this year’s sold-out Cruise360

Cruise Lines International Association has announced six international speakers and panellists who will visit Sydney for this year’s sold-out Cruise360 on August 30. They join a record number of travel agents and cruise representatives from throughout Australasia. CLIA Managing Director in Australasia Joel Katz said Cruise360 Australasia would offer a rich line-up of international speakers […]

  • Tour Operators

Flight Centre leadership team visits Morocco for Planting for the Planet

Senior members of Flight Centre have visited Morocco to see the impact of its Planting for the Planet initiative. Flight Centre global managing director, Andrew Stark, joined by Flight Centre Travel Group founder and CEO, Graham Turner, and Reforest founders Daniel Walsh (CEO) and Tim Stainlay (COO/CFO), along with other senior leaders, travelled to the […]

  • Food & Beverage

Four Seasons Hotel Sydney popular Aperitivo returns to Grain Bar

Four Seasons Hotel Sydney is relaunching its popular Aperitivo, now located in the George St venue’s award-winning Grain Bar. Originally launched into Mode Kitchen & Bar in 2023, Aperitivo is inspired by the classic Italian evening ritual where guests enjoy a cocktail, paired with traditional Italian antipasti bites. It became a much-loved offering for Sydneysiders […]

  • Hotels

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor unveils new electric tuk-tuks

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, the iconic luxury hotel in Cambodia, has introduced a new fleet of electric tuk-tuks, providing an eco-friendly transportation option for guests. ONiON Mobility, a green transport company based in Phnom Penh, manufactured the new tuk-tuks. The partnership between Raffles and ONiON underscores a shared commitment to environmental sustainability, the hotel said. […]

  • Hotels

Mandarin Oriental is set to open a new luxury resort and branded residences in Bali

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has announced plans to open a new luxurious hideaway resort with private residences in Bali’s southern coast on the Bukit peninsula. Set to open in 2027, the property promises to redefine luxury living on the island. From the cliffside plateau of elevated terraces, the resort offers dramatic panoramic views of […]

  • Tour Operators
  • Travel Agents

PONANT, Journey Beyond and A&K host Central Coast soiree for agents and clients

PONANT, Journey Beyond and A&K hosted back-to-back ‘Bring A Client’ events in Newcastle and the Central Coast, bringing together a total of 100 agents and clients over two exciting evenings recently. Representing PONANT was NSW & ACT state manager, Kristina Sambaher, who was joined by Journey Beyond business development manager NSW/ACT Deon Johnson, and Abercrombie […]

  • Destinations
  • Hotels

The Myconian Collection adds Myconian Sunrise Agrari Beach to its portfolio

The Myconian Collection has announced the addition of Sunrise Agrari Beach to its portfolio of properties in Mykonos, Greece. The addition of the property brings the collection to a total of 14 properties located in breathtaking sites across the island. The new addition has been redesigned and relaunched, promising an idyllic escape for travellers seeking […]

  • Hotels

OUTRIGGER Kona Resort and Spa completes US$60 million renovation

Hawai’i’s OUTRIGGER Kona Resort & Spa has completed its US$60 million (AU$90 million) renovation as is once again ready to welcome guests to Keauhou, a name that signifies “New Era”. The revitalised 511 guest rooms/suites and meeting spaces blend the property’s heritage and reverence for voyaging with modern aesthetics. The concept of “koi au” inspired […]

  • Technology

Australian agents responded quickly to Crowdstrike crash

Local travel professionals and businesses moved quickly into action to provide support to the many Australians whose travel plans were thrown into chaos on Friday and into the weekend. The chaos was the result of the flow-on effect of the suspension of check-in services and flights domestically and globally. A blue screen with the outage […]

  • News and Airbnb named as the preferred booking platforms of digital nomads

A new YouGov Survey has found that and Airbnb are the most popular booking platforms for digital nomads. For this poll a ‘Digital Nomad’ was defined as someone who travels freely for an extended period (at least one week), while working remotely using technology and the internet. YouGov Surveys have found that almost one […]

  • Attractions
  • Food & Beverage

Singapore Airlines has been announced as the first airline partner of Taste Port Douglas

Singapore Airlines has been announced as the first airline partner of Taste Port Douglas food festival presented by Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Port Douglas. The Taste Port Douglas Takeover Series now has a presentation partner in Singapore Airlines and features Michelin star chef, Michael Wilson from Singapore marking this the first time the festival has […]