Tuesday, February 01, 2005

New Mexico Issues Late Night Convenience Store Violence Standard

Check out the Weekly Toll that Tammy Miser assembles for Confined Space every couple of weeks. Every list includes numbers of fatalities that resulted from workplace violence, most of them retail workers. (And I'm sure we're missing quite a few.) Well, instead of just saying "too bad," the state of New Mexico is doing something about it.

The New Mexico state Environmental Improvement Board, which issues occupational safety and health standards, has issued a regulation 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 Board held a number of statewide town-hall style hearings last Fall to discuss the regulation.

Certain parts of the regulation went 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. 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.
Sgt. James Schoeffel, public information officer for the Clovis Police Department and former detective for five years, thinks the new regulations will probably deter some robberies.

"I think that it may make some people think twice, but there’s nothing that is a 100-percent sure thing," he said.

Having two employees during the late shift could also aid in solving robberies, Schoeffel said.

"Two sets of eyes are also helpful for the potential of catching the subject. If we get two descriptions, we have more information to work with," he said.
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. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that workplace violence --including assaults and suicides-- accounted for 16% of all work-related fatal occupational injuries in 2003. Homicides have consistently been one of thethe top three causes of workplace fatalities. The number of workplace homicides was higher in 2003 -- the first increase since 2000 -- although the 631 workplace homicides recorded in 2003 represented a 42 percent decline from the high of 1,080 workplace homicides recorded in 1994.

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. The OSHA website also has an extensive list of workplace violence resources.

The state of Washington enforces that "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."