Safety tips for pharmacy staff

With criminals targeting pharmacies across Australia, we look at the best ways to prepare your staff and ensure their safety

Police are currently investigating a string of armed robberies of pharmacies in south-east Sydney, which occurred over the week starting Tuesday 12 July.

The pharmacies in question have all been hit by a robber wielding a syringe or knife, police say.

Such incidents can be incredibly traumatic for staff and it’s important to be prepared in order to ensure safety according to the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS).

“It’s important for pharmacies to have a security protocol in place and a plan of what to do if someone comes in and threatens them,” the organisation told the AJP.

“There also needs to be a code of communication organised between staff. For example, if someone comes in behaving suspicious or looking agitated, it’s best to observe from a distance and try to notify other staff.

“Do not be a hero. It’s best to cooperate to avoid getting hurt. If you can call the police in another part of the pharmacy while it’s happening that’s great, but it depends on how large the pharmacy is,” says PSS.

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) provides the same advice.

“In the event of a robbery, it is important to stay calm and do exactly as the offender says. Your personal safety and that of your employees and customers is far more important than any money or stock you might lose,” says the service.

The QPS and the PSS also provide the following advice on how to act before, during and after a robbery.

Reducing the risk:

  • Be aware of unusual behaviour such as loitering or unusual dress (e.g. wearing winter clothes in summer).
  • Avoid opening and closing your business alone.
  • Make sure the cashier is in a visible location, as far away from entry/exists as possible, and that the counter is wide and high enough to restrict physical contact between staff and offenders.
  • Designate safe areas and escape routes for you and your staff.
  • Install Close Circuit Television (CCTV) to monitor entry and movement within your business.

During a robbery:

  • Speak only when spoken to.
  • Explain in advance any sudden movements you are going to make (e.g. “I am going to open the cash register now”).
  • Do not activate alarm systems unless it is safe to do so.
  • Avoid eye contact with the offender.
  • Try to remember as much as you can about the offender. Get an impression of their height, hair, noticeable features such as piercings or tattoos, and accent.

After a robbery:

  • Call 000 and ask for the police.
  • If required, provide first aid and call 000 for an ambulance.
  • Activate the alarm system.
  • Close the business and try to preserve the crime scene.
  • Ask any non-employee witnesses to remain until police arrive. If they insist on leaving, try to obtain their name and contact details.
  • Each staff member should write an independent report of what they saw as soon as possible, while it is still fresh.

“It’s normal to feel shaken up and have a heightened anxiety around work for about a month after any such traumatic incident,” says the PSS.

However any longer than this and it may be post-traumatic stress disorder that you have developed, they say.

Affected staff can contact the PSS if they need someone to talk to. The organisation’s 1300 244 910 line is available 365 days a year, from 8am-11pm.

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  1. Emily Thorp

    Great reminder and very timely. I was the Pharmacist on duty during an Armed robbery in May. I gave him the box of morphine he requested while he wielded a large kitchen knife towards me. We closed, rang the police and did everything we’re supposed to.

    I called the Pharmacist Support Service which wasn’t particularly helpful for me. Sigma however does have a support service linked to them and while I couldn’t talk to someone in person, the counsellor on the phone was great. I highly recommend them.

    The Supreme court emailed me yesterday to notify me of the punishment for the man. Community Service with a suspended term of imprisonment. Meaning he has to plant trees, mow people’s lawns etc as a punishment. For armed robbery.

    Some of our staff still get nightmares and struggle when customers walk in looking similar to him. It took a few weeks to even feel safe at work.

    The punishment most certainly doesn’t fit the crime. It is worrying that with public knowledge of potential for such minor sentences, that pharmacies could be an easy target.

    • Russell Smith

      IF you ever get to attend, as a prosecution witness in such as case, pls do, so that oneself – the victim – may be afforded the opportunity to have input, so that the perpetrator has a better chance of being jailed. It may be costly and inconvenient. Doesn’t work if they cop a plea, but its worth being able to have a say and to show up the effects of crime on the victims. And show up opposition to the pathetic penalties imposed by piss week judiciary, in the wider media if necessary.

  2. Notachemist

    An armed hold-up can be very distressing and support after the event is important. When symptoms of distress persist it is important to seeks expert help from a counsellor who has expertise in trauma debriefing. The cost of seeking counselling may be defrayed through a Work Cover claim or through insurance or by seeing a GP who can organise a Mental Health Plan. Some insurers and some banner groups are able to provide access to counsellors. Otherwise the Australian Psychological Society website has a find a psychologist search engine.
    A good starting point for discussion is the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS). This is available 7 days a week between 8am and 11pm. The service is provided by trained volunteers who are all pharmacists or retired pharmacists. The PSS volunteers can help you work out what to do next after a distressing incident like this. PSS is an anonymous and confidential service and is available by calling 1300244910.

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