Tuesday, November 1, 2016
OHS consultation on gas stations and convenience stores
First, the Minister of Labour attended, stayed for the whole presentation, and participated (I don’t ever recall a Tory minister doing that). There were also four ND MLAs, which suggests to me that action on this issue is imminent (perhaps a private member’s bill along the lines of BC’s Grant’s Law).
Second, this sector is profoundly unsafe. The lost-time claim (LTC) numbers provided suggest there were 11,576 LTCs between 2010 and 2014 (inclusive) across about 2200 employers. Using an annual average of 50,950 person-years worked, I think this means the annual LTC rate (claims per 100 person years worked) was 4.54 (versus a provincial average of 1.26 in 2014).
This rate of injury is crazy high (basically it looks like every employer had a LTC each year!), especially since LTCs represent only a fraction (say 10-20%) of all injuries. Around 0.7% of LTC injuries stem from assaults and violence. The most common causes of injury are over-exertion, bodily reaction, and struck by objects.
Third, there was a general sense that gas pre-payment (either at the pump or in store) was an acceptable safety measure for the government to impose (about 77% of stations have pay-at-the-pump technology installed). There are 12 reported cases of fuel theft per day in Alberta and pre-payment would eliminate them. That said, there is little evidence beyond the anecdotal that fuel theft is a significant source of injury.
By contrast, violence seems to be more of an issue in this sector. According to one hand out, there were 83 assaults resulting in LTCs from 2011-2015. More broadly, there appear to have been 750 victims of crime in this sector (victims include both workers and bystanders) in 2012.
Interestingly, there was little interest among employers in installing barriers between workers and customers. Employers cited ineffectiveness, cost, operational disruptions, and the off-putting experience of barriers for customers as reasons not to implement barriers.
I could not find any peer-reviewed literature on the efficacy of barriers in retail establishments. Barriers separating cab drivers from customers seem to reduce injuries. Obviously barriers are not a perfect form of hazard control (workers have to leave the cage eventually) but barriers seem to offer some protection from violence. The one study cited in the presentation was summarized as barriers showed mixed results. This looked like a consultant’s report so the quality of its evidence is unknown.
Violence prevention plans were touted by industry representatives as a better alternative than barriers. The literature seems to suggest that these programs do reduce the chance of robbery. But robbery is only one source of workplace violence.
Indeed, in looking at US convenience store homicides, one study found basically 80% of homicides had no robbery motive. This suggests that robbery prevention does not necessarily result in violence prevention (although it may reduce robbery-related violence).
One of the take-aways from the session for me was that hazard-control costs (both the initial investment and the effect on operations) remain a significant issue for employers. I was also struck by how the broad consensus sat uncomfortably with the data.
Specifically, there was broad acceptance of requiring gas pre-payment but little evidence that gas-and-dash was meaningfully associated with injury. Basically, pay-at-the-pump likely won’t make workplaces much safer (although it will reduce fuel theft).
At the same time, violence appears to be a much more significant risk than gas-and-dash. And there is some evidence barriers work to reduce injuries. Yet, there was little appetite for requiring barriers between workers and the public.
Despite that disappointing outcome, overall, I was heartened by the consultation. It was positive, clearly important the government, and there was a broad diversity of voices at the table.
-- Bob Barnetson