Wednesday, October 06, 2004

New Mexico Takes Action Against Retail Worker Violence

Elizabeth Garcia was working alone overnight at Hobbs convenince store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2002 when she was raped and stabbed 56 times. It is in her sister's memory that Celia Garcia is urged the Albuquerque City Council to endorse a regulation designed to protect late night retail workers from workplace violence. State records show that 16 convenience store workers died on the job in the past five years. In the same time period, 24 were raped and another 27 were kidnapped.

Workplace violence is a familiar subject of Confined Space. Workplace assaults were the third leading cause of death in the workplace in 2003 and had been the second leading cause throughout most of the 1990's. It is the leading cause of death among immigrant workers in this country.

Contrary to the myth that nothing can be done to prevent workplace violence, OSHA has issued guidelines to prevent workplace violence against health care and social service workers as well as late night retail workers. 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 regulation being considered in New Mexico was proposed by the Environmental Improvement Board which is charged with developing OSHA standards for New Mexico state OSHA. State senator Richard Martinez sponsored legislation directing the Department to draft the original regulations. He has said he was prompted to act out of concern over murders, rapes and other crimes committed against lone store clerks working the midnight shift.

The regulation was originally adopted last Spring, but a lawsuit was filed by the New Mexico Petroleum Marketers’ Association and parts of the regulation was stayed.
Sen. Dianna Duran, R-Alamogordo , issued a statement Thursday saying that the regulations as originally adopted by the board might prove so expensive that they would force smaller convenience-store operations out of business.

“Many convenience-store owners told me that they may have to shut down their businesses because of these regulations,” Duran said. “If they are forced to close, residents would have to travel many miles for goods and services because, oftentimes, the small, privately owned convenience stores are the only place to shop.”

Martinez said he disagrees. “I don’t believe that at all,” he said of the prospect of smaller stores going out of business. “The majority of the momand-pops close early anyway. This is for the large convenience stores that are open 24 hours and have employees working after hours.”
In response to the lawsuit, the court ordered the agency to hold additional public hearings on a requirement to have two workers or a security guard on duty between the hours of 5:00 pm and 5:00 am. But the court allowed certain parts of the regulation to go into effect last Spring: requirements for 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.

Following additional hearings in September and October, the Board will consider the final regulatoin.