A security guard at a Welsh supermarket has opened up on how he has been left “scared to go to work” after receiving countless threats from customers while trying to enforce stricter coronavirus rules.
Since January, the UK’s four major supermarket chains – Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – have all banned customers who refuse to wear face coverings, apart from those individuals who have a valid medical reason not to wear one.
There must also be systems in place to limit the number of people who can be in store at any one time, and signs visible to help people keep their distance and make their way around the store.
Supermarkets are using security guards to challenge those who do not follow the rules, which has meant those working in the roles have been subjected to “countless threats”.
One such security guard, who works at a Welsh Asda store, explained the conditions he now has to work in, with his only protection against the hundreds of customers he encounters every day being a mask and hand gel.
He said: “Since the pandemic started, I have had countless threats made against me. I have had people threatening to end my life and I have had people squaring up to me.
“I always try to help customers, and there was one occasion where a customer’s money was not going into the self scan. I tried to help and he chucked his food at me and waited for me to come outside afterwards. Everyone has gone a bit crazy.
“Our current advice is for us not to let anyone in without a mask, unless they have a good reason not to wear them.
“I receive some abuse for that. I do try to explain that it’s now law that they have to wear the masks and we can give one to a customer if they haven’t got one. Most people are good now, to be fair, but when it first came out that people had to wear masks, we would get lots of people saying: ‘I’m not wearing a mask’. You can only say so much and it gets to a point to not approach people who are being aggressive. It’s not worth the hassle.
“I am concerned about it as I have a child at home and I’m scared in case I pass it on when I return home, so it’s not pleasant.
“It’s getting to a point I’m looking for a new job. I don’t feel safe because of the amount of people I see every day, it’s hundreds, and not everyone is following the guidelines. I am scared about it.
“I saw one family come out with about six kids, and they were all running wild. It should be a case that it’s only one person per family allowed to shop.”
The security guard said his day to day job changed drastically since last March when the first nationwide lockdown was announced.
“It was madness,” he said.
“People were panic buying and we had queues right up to the end of the car park. Everyone is under pressure.
“In my job as security, I always try and make sure people are going the right way around the aisles and make sure people are wearing masks, and are two metres apart. Then you are keeping an eye out for things like potential thefts.
“People are not observing social distancing at all. It’s mad because when they queue, they keep two metres apart, but as soon as they come into the store it’s as if people don’t care.
“Every aisle is cramped and nobody cares about two metre social distancing. It’s madness. Customers also seem to have gone a bit more aggressive towards staff.
“I think we should be higher priority for the coronavirus vaccine in my view, especially when you consider how it was at the start. I’d say shop workers were more at risk than say a nurse or a doctor. Nurses had all the PPE where as we don’t. I see hundreds of people a day, thousands of people a day, so we don’t know who we are coming up against.”
Another security guard, who works for a Welsh Iceland store, said he felt his job had completely changed since the start of the pandemic.
“Before the lockdown it was just monitoring the flow of customers and ensuring there were no thefts, but as soon as we had the lockdown we had a one in, one out system and it created a lot more pressure,” he said.
“I’ve had to manage the front door and manage the queuing system outside. When lockdown first came in I think people were so oblivious to it.
“I had one lady who ignored the queue and said she wanted to come in and do her shopping. I told her where the queue was and she said ‘It’s massive, I’m not queuing in that’.
“I have been told I have to ensure customers have got face masks unless they have lanyards showing they are exempt. Some people don’t realise how they are actually speaking to staff or how they are speaking to shop assistants. I had one person putting their lanyard in my face as if to prove a point. They need to realise we’re only doing our jobs.
“We do have tannoy announcements every 15 minutes reminding people to adhere to the rules, but I still do have to remind people they have to keep a two metre distance.”
The Iceland security guard explained one particular unpleasant encounter with a customer where he was racially abused.
He said: “We had one customer who came into the store and asked about home delivery slots, and we told her there was not any. She carried on with her shopping, and paid for it, but then demanded she was given a home delivery slot. She began throwing stuff she had bought around the shop floor.
“I asked her to leave the store and she refused, and became quite racially abusive towards myself. I moved her trolley outside of the store and I told her she could stay inside, but her food was outside. I let it (the racial abuse) go over my head as I understand there is a lot of frustration, but it can be too much.
“The way the infection rate is does make me worried, and I don’t drive so I rely on public transport too.
“I just make sure I’m well away and a safe distance from customers, which can be difficult at times when you are dealing with the elderly or hearing impaired.
“We are in the frontline. It is not just security staff, it’s other people who work in the supermarket who should be entitled to the vaccine. It just almost feels as if we have been singled out.
“The NHS has done a fantastic job battling through this virus, but for supermarket staff there has been no recognition. I do reckon we should be given some sort of priority. The NHS should come first but it does not feel like supermarket staff are being treated as essential.”
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Dan Lee works in close protection security and runs Axel Events, which is based in Cardiff and also carries out jobs abroad.
He employs between 50 to 60 staff and explained how he refused invitations for his staff to work as security at supermarkets or coronavirus vaccination centres because of the risks involved.
Mr Lee said: “They are all using security guards on minimum wage and they are in the frontline being exposed to the virus. None of my team will do that. On our licences it says we are frontline workers and we are not getting treated like that.
“People working in security should be vaccinated, we are frontline workers and we seem to be at the bottom of the line.
“I have been offered work from supermarkets and refused it. We have been approached to take on quite a bit of work but I am not prepared to do it the way things are. Frontline security should be vaccinated.”
A spokesperson from the Security Industry Union Ltd, the UK’s Multi Trade Body for Security, stressed how security workers have played “an essential role” throughout the pandemic.
He said: “Security workers along with other essential workers ensured the UK’s infrastructure and daily business are not affected during the pandemic.
“Security workers who are undertaking a customer-facing role, among other essential workers, would benefit from being prioritised for the vaccination program.”
A spokesman for Asda said: “’We are grateful to our colleagues for their hard work in incredibly difficult circumstances and we implore customers to treat them with respect and comply with the safety measures when inside our stores.
“We have extensive measures in place across all of our stores such as Covid-marshals, protective screens, social distancing signage and numerous hand sanitiser stations. Our customers can rest assured that we continue to follow all government guidance as we have since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.’’
Addressing calls for security workers to be placed higher up the pecking order in the coronavirus vaccination roll-out programme, a Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “We are following the priority groups set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and all people in the highest priority groups will be immunised as safely and as soon as possible.”