Saturday, October 01, 2005

Workplace Fatalities That OSHA Ignores

Here's a clear workplace fatality that OSHA has no intention of investigating. Why? Because it's a police matter, because they fear they can't make a citation stick, because they'll be attacked by industry associations, etc., etc.... You choose.

What was the incident?

Clerk killed in robbery attempt

Back in the old days, workplace violence wasn't considered a real, legitimate workplace hazard that fell within OSHA's jurisdiction. In the mid-1990's, however, (after pressure from unions), OSHA finally concluded that workplace assaults, like other incidents, were preventable; there were risk factors that led to a higher likelihood of assualts, that could be predicted and could be prevented. In fact, OSHA even issued two workplace violence guidelines: one for health care workers and for late night retail) workers.

Let's play a game. How many risk factors can we find in this article (hints included):

Feroz Noor-Ali Lalani was counting the days until he would be eligible for U.S. citizenship next year.

Four years of anticipation made him giddy whenever he talked about it, said his co-worker, Aziz Akbarali. The two men grew up about 10 miles apart in Karachi, Pakistan, and ended up working at the same Pleasant Grove gas station "looking for a better future from a Third World country," Mr. Akbarali said.

But about 3:20 a.m. Friday, Mr. Lalani's dream ended. He was fatally shot during an attempted robbery.

Mr. Lalani was working the graveyard shift when three young men walked in and started milling about the Shell convenience store at 9512 C.F. Hawn Freeway. One man started to pay for an item, and as Mr. Lalani was making change, the robber lunged for the register's cash, a police report said.

Mr. Lalani was able to slam the drawer shut, but another man shot him, and the robbers fled without taking any items.

Immediately after the shooting, police say the three young men robbed a 7-Eleven store at Masters Drive and Bruton Road, where they punched the clerk in the head and stole cigarettes and cigars.

"His face is all broken," said Zahir Sattari, a co-worker of the clerk.

The clerk, whose name was not released, was hospitalized but was expected to recover, Dallas police Sgt. Ross Salverino said.

Convenience store clerks say they are frightened by how dangerous their jobs can be, but many people who are recent arrivals in the United States don't have many options about what kind of work they take.

Mr. Sattari said that every night he works at his gas station, nonchalant thugs steal items such as candy, cigarettes and cash.

He added he's sick of calling police as many as five times a day for thefts and robberies.

Mr. Akbarali said he would feel more comfortable only if he worked behind bulletproof glass or didn't work overnight.

His boss, Nadeem Ali, said he was so upset after his employee's death that he plans to close his convenience store at 11:30 each night. Motorists will have to pay at the pump.

Mr. Sattari said he has asked to be transferred to another 7-Eleven store because the neighborhood is too dangerous.

"I'm terrified of going to clean the station pumps," he said. "But I have kids to feed."

So what are the answers?
  • Working with money.
  • Working alone
  • Working late nights
  • Working in dangerous neighborhoods
And solutions? Several are mentioned.

  • Working behind bullet-proof glass
  • Closing at 11:30
  • When being robbed, cooperate, don't resist.
So why shouldn't OSHA get involved in cases like this. Why aren't there laws?

Actually, there are laws in some places. The New Mexico state Environmental Improvement Board, which issues occupational safety and health standards, issued a regulation earlier this year that requires convenience stores open between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. either to have two workers on duty, or one clerk and a security guard, or to install bulletproof glass or other safety features to limit access to store employees. The regulations also requires safety cameras, panic alarms and adequate lighting, and making sure that clerks have a clear line of sight outside the stores. They also require either time-lock safes or some sort of money-drop and limit cash in the register to $50. Employees must also receive crime prevention and safety training by the employer or a "knowledgable representative" in a language that is understood by the employee.

The state of Washington enforces a "Late Night Retail Workers Crime Protection Act" which requires annual crime prevention training, drop-safes or limited access safes, and outside lighting.

Although federal OSHA had cited some nursing homes and other facilities for workplace violence hazards in the 1990's, the agency has not cited in this area in a number of years. The American Public Health Association recently called on federal OSHA to "promulgate an enforceable standard on occupational violence prevention."

Sounds like a good idea. I'm sure Feroz Noor-Ali Lalani would have appreciated it.