Anger over soaring petrol prices has fuelled fears service station workers are in danger of being attacked by hostile customers.
An industry body has advised businesses “to make sure that their staff are aware of how to deal with any physical aggression”.
Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association CEO Mark McKenzie said some were already suffering social media “hate” as debate about skyrocketing costs turned ugly.
“Some people are inciting fuel theft and howling down anyone who tries to interject with sane comment,” Mr McKenzie said.
Tens of thousands of people have expressed support for a nationwide petrol station boycott on October 26 that is being promoted on Facebook.
“People are obviously free to vent their anger in the form of boycotts of our businesses if that is their wish. But no one has the right to intimidate or endanger our employees.”
Mr McKenzie said there was concern about the possibility of “extreme elements” taking matters too far.
Average petrol prices are at a four-year high. Last month, unleaded prices in Melbourne peaked at as much as $1.68 a litre, the biggest hit in a decade.
Mr McKenzie said retailers had been unfairly accused of price gouging, including by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims.
“The simple reality here is that a 44 per cent increase in world oil prices and a 10 per cent decline in the value of the Australian dollar over the past 12 months, coupled with increases in fuel retail costs and a steadily increasing rate of fuel excise, are causing prices to be the highest in four years,” he said.
Mr Sims has highlighted “three forms of rip-off” faced by motorists: mainly the overseas cartel of oil-producing nations, plus fuel tax and retail margins.
He believes margins are 2c-3c a litre too high, a gap that rips $400-$600 million a year from Australian motorists’ pockets.
But Mr McKenzie said: “I can’t think of any retail industry in the country where retail costs today have not increased to the point of having widened the gap between product buy price and product sell price in recent years.
“For some reason, there seems to be a belief that fuel retailers are magically immune from these increases.”