Grant, a 24-year-old service station worker in Maple Ridge, BC, was working alone during the night shift back in 2005. During a “gas and dash” robbery, he tried to stop a customer from stealing $12.30 worth of gas. The customer hit the parking attended with his car, and dragged him for 7 km under the vehicle. The accused was sentenced for nine years in jail for manslaughter. In 2011, a more recent incident in Toronto claimed the lives of 2. In a similar instance, both victims were working alone at night. The workers were both hit and killed in the process of stopping customers who filled up their tanks and didn’t pay. All three of these tragic incidents took the lives of employees who were working in isolation at night. Events like these are far too common. Much can be done to mitigate the risks for lone workers in retail.
Lone Workers in the Retail Sector
Most organizations define lone workers as “employees who are alone for a significant period”. However, this definition should be modified to: “Those that work by themselves without close or direct supervision, for any amount of time.” In this case, it considers lone workers in the retail sector who, as part of their usual working day, complete tasks such as: open up the store or be the first employee on-site in the morning, cover for lunch breaks while others are away, lock up at the end of the day, work in the stock or backroom away in isolation, provide measuring or fitting services to customers, or respond to burglar alarms. Thus, although the retail industry isn’t often associated with lone work, there can be a lot of instances throughout a shift where workers can find themselves working in isolation. As it offers many cost benefits to businesses, lone working in retail is becoming increasingly more common. But, staff who work alone are more likely to experience violence, harassment, aggression, threats, and abuse. More specifically, lone workers employed in retail stores and gas stations could be subject to robberies, “gas and dashes,” and violence – especially during night shifts. Mitigating the risks faced by these lone retail workers is crucial.
Who Bears the Highest Risk?
Employees who frequently handle cash have the highest risk of experiencing physical assault or verbal abuse, with the key motivator being robbery. Lone working in liquor stores, gas stations, convenience stores, food locations, bars, and ticket agencies are among the jobs that pose the greatest risk. Conflict may arise as a result of attempting to stop a robbery, dealing with unacceptable behavior or interacting with angry customers. It’s essential to discuss what employers can do to mitigate the risk for their lone retail workers.
In the process of doing a hazard assessment for your workplace, it is almost a certainty you’ll learn information about the operational aspects of your organization you were unaware of prior to the assessment. Visit our FREE SafetyLine Lone Worker Hazard Assessment Guide.
Important Questions For Employers to Address
- Do employees sometimes work alone, and if so, do they know the emergency alert procedures?
- During workplace inspections, are some areas isolated?
- In these isolated areas, how far away can the closest person be found? Could they hear an employee’s call for help?
- Can employees easily predict when other workers will be around? Or when customers will be around?
- Do lone workers have panic buttons that are easily accessible?
- Are the employees regularly checking-in anywhere to confirm their safety?
Best Practices from Safety Experts
If your retail staff is working alone at night, these tips will mitigate their risk and could save their lives. Properly recognizing the safety of lone workers may seem like an overwhelming task. We have put together some effective safety and security procedures that will help address the safety of your employees at night.
- Using a security system, such as surveillance cameras and mirrors, helps to expose workers who would normally be out of view.
- Speak to your employees who regularly work alone. Find out their opinions and input on times when they felt unsafe and what would have made them feel more at ease. Regular risk assessments will ensure a safe work environment for your lone workers.
- Use signs that read “No Cash Left on Premises” throughout the store. It’s also a good idea to schedule bank runs during daytime hours and when more than one staff member is on duty.
- Limit the number of places that someone can enter the establishment. Lock back and side doors so that customers can only enter through one location.
- Avoid tasks that unnecessarily increase an employee’s risk during a night shift, like emptying the garbage. Stay away from areas that are not well lit.
- Train your staff in first aid. You can read more about the benefits of this here.
- Have a list of emergency phone numbers on hand. Implementing an emergency button, or a wearable device that can be used to signal an emergency is also an excellent idea.