C-Store Workers at High Risk of Violent Crime: NIOSH

Tips for keeping employees safe during shootings or other criminal activity
Photograph: Shutterstock

Tuesday’s fatal shooting at an Erie, Pennsylvania, Quick Stop brought home the risks of working the evening shift, while the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offered ways to keep workers safe.

The fatal shooting at a Quick Stop convenience store in Erie occurred just before 8 p.m. when a male walked into the store and fired two shots, the Erie Times-News reported. Yellow police tape surrounded the store and police reviewed footage from the security video, but details about the shooting were scant, according to the report.

The incident was the most recent of several fatal shootings at convenience stores this year, raising concerns about working conditions for c-store employees, particularly those working the night shift.

Convenience-store workers are at higher risk of homicide, robbery and workplace violence than other retail workers, according to the NIOSH.

  • Click here to read the CSP report Crime & Safety: When Prevention Isn't Enough.

The availability of cash at convenience stores and the long hours of operation, including the hours between 9 a.m. and 3 a.m., contribute to the high risk, of violence, NIOSH said in a new report called, “Reducing Workplace Violence in Gasoline Stations and Convenience Stores.”

The long hours are just part of the problem. C-store workers often are faced with limited visibility of the entrance and exit doors, lack of bullet-resistant shielding and security systems, lack of robbery prevention training and a history of robbery or violent incidents.

With a higher proportion of minority and non-native employees, convenience stores have demographics that put employees at higher risk of homicide than at employers with less diversity.

“Retail workers who are black, Asian or born outside of the United States experience higher homicide rates than workers who are white or born in the United States,” NIOSH said.

Employees might be endangered by perpetrators who arrive at the store with criminal intent, such as robbery. But angry customers, co-workers or other people familiar with employees also can turn violent and pose a threat to employees’ safety.

Attempting to intervene isn’t the best course of action during a violent incident with criminal intent, NIOSH said. “In these situations, active employee resistance to the robbery is significantly associated with employee injury,” the report said.

Instead, workers might need to run or hide, particularly in an “active shooter” incident, according to the report.

Reducing the risk of violence can start with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED, the report said.

Best practices in building design include highly visible work areas, controlled entry points and limited access to commonly stolen products.

A well-maintained site also can serve as a deterrent to criminals. To boost security, c-store operators should repair broken windows, clean graffiti from buildings and replace burned out lightbulbs to keep the site maintained.

C-stores can install security systems and keep windows unobstructed so police can see into the building, NIOSH said. In the store, curved mirrors can be used to show a wide area, while shelving units should be kept to a height that doesn’t obstruct employees’ view of the aisles to avoid creating a hiding place for criminals.

To play it safe, managers can reduce the amount of cash kept at the register and provide employee training on steps to take during a criminal or violent incident.

Train workers to be alert for warning signs, such as a person who appears to be casing the store or who is bothering an employee. More obvious signs of potential danger include a person brandishing a weapon, customers impaired due to drug or alcohol use, and people making threatening gestures or verbally expressing their anger in the store.

When threatened, employees should refrain from replying with a similar threat, shouting commands to the perpetrator, and resisting or escalating the anger. NIOSH said. They should be trained to avoid any aggressive behavior.

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