BC’s Attempts to Protect Late Night Retail Workers

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Please welcome back guest blogger Robert Smithson, a BC lawyer, who examines the province’s attempts to protect retail workers who work in the wee hours of the night.

Protecting Late Night Retail Workers

According to WorkSafeBC, robbers don’t select their targets randomly but, instead, consider environmental factors in choosing which stores to rob (they tend to choose targets which reduce the risk of being caught and which present the greatest reward). Businesses can, therefore, reduce their risk of robbery by eliminating those characteristics which make their site attractive to thieves.

These seemingly logical premises support the 2008 amendments to BC’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. Those amendments were introduced to protect the health and safety of workers who work alone in retail premises, such as gas stations and convenience stores, late at night.

The amendments apply to employers who have workers who are working alone or in isolation in retail premises between 10:00pm and 6:00am.  These employers must develop written procedures for handling money and the workers must be trained in these procedures. 

If the worker will be alone, the employer must ensure the worker is physically separated from the public by a locked door or barrier. The employer’s alternative is to have multiple workers employed in the premises during the hours from 10:00pm to 6:00am.

WorkSafeBC has armed itself with the results of numerous studies measuring the impact of such robbery prevention measures on retail premises. 

A 1975 study measured simple techniques such as reducing the amount of cash on premises, posting signs about the low cash availability, clearing windows to increase inward and outward visibility, increasing lighting inside and out, etc. The study showed a resulting 30 percent reduction in robberies at the stores where they were implemented.

In 1999, another study found the “interventions” generally recognized as effective deterrents of robbery were “significantly related” to reduced odds of robbery. These so-called interventions included reducing opportunities for concealed escape, increasing visibility to the outside, security systems, cash handling strategies, and other measures.

A 2000 study in California, utilizing the same types of robbery prevention techniques, revealed a rate of reduction of robberies in the range of 30 percent to 84 percent.

The whole point of such measures is to reduce the risk of violence to workers. However, it appears that the amendments to the BC Occupational Health and Safety Regulations in 2008 presented some challenges.

The concerns raised by retailers include: adding staff may not be economically viable; the availability of additional workers for late night hours may be limited; and the risk of injury to workers may simply be multiplied by having more workers present in the workplace.

As a result, WorkSafeBC is considering adding a third option to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. WorkSafeBC is presently accepting feedback on a third option which might include having a time lock safe on the premises that can’t be opened late at night, storing cash and lottery tickets in the time lock safe during late night hours, good visibility into and out of the retail premises, limited access to the premises, video surveillance, providing workers with a personal emergency transmitter, etc.

It seems beyond any reasonable doubt that implementing measures to discourage robberies increases safety for late night workers. Achieving the right mix of options for retail employers may be the key to getting them to embrace a scheme which surely brings added complexity and cost to their operations.

Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer.  For more information about his practice, or to view past “Legal Ease” articles, go to www.pushormitchell.com.  This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice.