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Saskatchewan poised to enact the most far-reaching regulation to protect late night retail workers in Canada

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety has announced the enactment of a new regulatory amendment aimed at enhancing the protection of late night retail workers in that province. The new law comes into force on January 1st, 2013, and compels those operating late night retail establishments to conduct a hazard assessment and implement a range of specific crime prevention measures to protect late night retail workers.

Recent incidents involving lone or isolated workers

The main catalyst for the new law was the death of Jimmy Wiebe, a gas station clerk who was shot and killed during an armed robbery in Yorkton, SK. in June, 2011. A number of other high profile incidents involving violence against lone workers has also brought greater attention to the safety dangers of working alone. In February, 2011, Garda Canada Security Corp. was fined over $90,000 after being charged with failing to protect a lone female security guard who was viciously raped while working alone at a construction site in Alberta.

Another lone security guard working at a construction site in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia (“BC”) on October 14th, 2012, was set upon by three men and brutally beaten with a metal bar. On September 15th, 2012, a Toronto, Ontario gas attendant was dragged and killed by a vehicle driven by a fleeing gas thief prompting renewed calls for a “pre-paid gas law” in the province to mirror Grant’s Law in BC.

Working alone laws and laws protecting late night retail workers

A total of six jurisdictions in Canada have enacted “Working Alone” regulations, including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan. The populous provinces of Ontario and Quebec have elected not to universally regulate lone worker protection, which is surprising given the frequency of lone worker assaults and the widespread acknowledgement of the vulnerability of people working in isolated work environments.

Saskatchewan will become only the second jurisdiction in Canada to enact a law protecting late night retail worker safety. In 2008, the province of British Columbia enacted B.C. Reg. 318/2007, a “Working Alone” amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety (“OHS”) Regulation containing a sub-section directed at the protection of late night retail workers.

How far-reaching is the new Saskatchewan law?

The regulatory amendment protecting late night retail workers in British Columbia was enacted under the “Working Alone or in Isolation” provisions contained in Section 4 of the BC OHS Regulation. Section 4.22.1, ‘Late night retail safety procedures and requirements’, sets out the steps employers must take but it is important to note that these steps only apply (see Section 4.22.1(2)), “If a worker is assigned to work alone or in isolation in late night retail premises and there is any risk of harm from a violent act to the worker” (emphasis added). In other words, the enhanced protections for late night retail workers in BC only apply in situations where a solitary employee is working the overnight shift.

In contrast with the approach taken in BC, the regulatory amendment to protect late night retail workers in Saskatchewan is not tethered to the “Working Alone” provisions (i.e., Section 35) of the province’s OHS Regulation but is instead enacted under the “Workplace Violence” provisions (i.e., Section 37). In other words, the enhanced legal protections for late night retail workers in Saskatchewan will apply universally, regardless of how many employees work the overnight shift (with the exception of two requirements specifically targeted at lone workers under Saskatchewan’s new law).

The soon-to-come into force legal protections for late night retail workers in Saskatchewan incorporate a number of specific safety requirements to be implemented by employers operating overnight retail outlets, including:

  • Performance of a workplace hazard assessment that meets industry standards
  • Development of written safe cash handling procedures that minimize the amount of money accessible to workers
  • Use of video surveillance cameras to capture key areas within the workplace, including the cash desk location and any outdoor gas pumps
  • Implementation of measures to ensure good visibility into and out of the premises
  • Placement of signs to indicate: (1) the worker’s limited accessibility to cash and valuables and; (2) the use of video cameras on the premises

The following two provisions in the new Saskatchewan law apply specifically to lone late night retail workers:

  • Implementation of a check-in system and development of written check-in procedures for lone workers
  • Supply of a personal emergency transmitter to be worn by the lone worker that emits a signal to garner emergency assistance

How should employers approach compliance?

The new mandatory protections for Saskatchewan late night retail workers are rooted in a practical, proven approach to crime reduction knows as “situational crime prevention” or “SCP”. SCP techniques operate from the premise that criminal offenders select targets (e.g., late night retail outlets) based on a calculation of perceived risks and rewards. In contrast with traditional criminology which is largely “offender-focused”, situational crime prevention measures are “place-focused” and aim to inhibit or discourage crime at the specific locations where crimes occur.

Countless research studies since the 1960’s have demonstrated the success of SCP in preventing crime across a diverse range of work environments. A detailed review of situational crime prevention is beyond the scope of this column, but a quick review of the primary theories underpinning SCP will help the reader in operationalizing the concept in the context of protecting employees in physical workplaces.

SCP is premised on two primary theories; (1) rational choice perspective, and (2) routine activities theory. The rational choice perspective contends that criminals balance risk-reward perceptions in selecting crime targets. A useful summary is provided in the Crime Prevention Toolkit (2006: 1):

The rational choice perspective assumes that offenders seek to benefit in some way from their offending behaviour. It therefore portrays offenders as active decision makers who undertake a cost-benefit analysis of presenting crime opportunities.”

Routine activities theory builds on the rational choice perspective in contending that in order for a crime to take place, three essential ingredients must be present; (1) a likely offender; (2) a suitable target; and (3) the absence of a capable guardian.

The “suitable target” referred to in routine activities theory can be defined broadly as a person, an object, or a place, amenable to the offender. The third element, “absence of a capable guardian” applies to anything, whether a person or thing, that could serve to discourage or inhibit the perpetration of the crime. The Crime Prevention Toolkit (2006: 1) again provides a useful summary:

Routine Activities Theory looks at crime from an offender’s point of view. A crime will only be committed if a likely offender thinks that a target is suitable and a capable guardian is absent. It is their assessment of a situation that determines whether a crime will take place.”

In the context of late night retail establishments, three categories of opportunity-reducing techniques have been shown to successfully prevent and reduce crime:

  1. Increasing the effort – i.e., measures that increase the effort criminals perceive is required to successfully complete the crime
  2. Increasing the risks – i.e., measures that increase the risks perceived by potential offenders of being viewed, identified, interrupted and/or apprehended during or after the crime
  3. Reducing the rewards – i.e., measures that lower the rewards potential criminals perceive can be gained in committing the crime

Achieving meaningful compliance with key provisions of the new law

The primary safety and security measures contained within the new law are reproduced below with some practical considerations for employers wishing to synthesize regulatory compliance and crime prevention best practice:

1. Safe cash handling procedures

a. Employers are required to develop written cash handling procedures with a primary objective of limiting the amount of money accessible to workers. Safe cash handling procedures are a key component in reducing the reward for potential criminals. Such procedures typically include, in part:

  • limiting the amount of money held in the cash register;
  • counting cash and preparing deposits out of public view;
  • restrictions on non-employees entering cash counting areas;
  • ensuring deposits are transported by security personnel or at a minimum, are transported by two employees at different times taking different routes; and
  • limiting acceptance of bills greater than $20.

2. Video surveillance cameras

a. All late night retail establishments in Saskatchewan will be required to install video cameras which must, at a minimum, capture the cash desk and any outdoor gas pumps. If prominently installed and amplified by signage, video surveillance systems can increase the risks to potential offenders. Key steps to optimize video surveillance efficacy include:

  • assess the business premises as a whole before identifying camera locations;
  • place cameras in locations where they are most visible to customers and in areas that ensure potential offenders will be captured on video (e.g., outside of all entrances, immediately inside of all entrances, near cash machines and behind the cash desk, near garbage disposal areas); and
  • consider installing a visible video monitor above and behind the cash desk showing the camera view of the customer at the cash desk (but do not consider taking this step unless the quality of displayed video is high).

3. Maintaining clear lines of visibility

a. Employers are required to take steps to ensure good visibility into and out of the premises. Clear sightlines to and from the premises is another way to increase the risk perceived by offenders who fear they will be visible to passers-by during a crime. Priorities here include:

  • removing all posters, advertising materials and other signs affixed to glass entrance doors and windows (but if advertising materials are required, at least ensuring they are positioned well below eye level to maintain clear sightlines);
  • relocating or lowering any freestanding items (inside and outside of the premises) which block sightlines to/from the cash desk; and
  • considering raising the cash desk area to elevate the worker, enhancing the overall visibility to and from the cash desk.

4. Installing crime prevention signage

a. Under the new law, employers are required to display signs indicating workers’ limited accessibility to cash and advising of the presence of video surveillance. Signage stating that video cameras are in use serves to increase the risk perceived by offenders. Posting signs stating that workers can only access small sums of cash is a way to reduce the reward available to potential offenders. Inherent in stating that workers have limited access to cash is the requirement for a drop safe or time-lock safe, which is a form of increasing the effort required by potential criminals. Signage priorities include:

  • designing signage that synthesizes text, colour and graphics to draw attention to the signs and amplify the overall crime prevention message;
  • ensuring that multiple signs are placed in appropriate places (i.e., in locations most likely to be noticed by potential offenders; and
  • ensuring that video surveillance signage meets privacy law requirements (see my earlier column on ‘Video Surveillance and the Workplace’ Part 1 and Part 2 for more information).

Some final thoughts

In becoming only the second province to regulate the protection of late night retail workers, Saskatchewan has demonstrated the growing importance of regulating vulnerable worker safety. In 2012, Newfoundland became the sixth province to enact working alone regulations in Canada, yet substantial portions of the country’s lone worker population remain unprotected.

Working alone or in isolation has long been recognized as exposing workers to a heightened risk of violence. In spite of this fact, two of the provinces with the largest work populations in Canada (Ontario and Quebec), as well as the federal jurisdiction, have yet to enact regulatory protections to universally safeguard lone workers. Based on the growing number of examples of lone worker deaths and injuries in Canada and the impact of such occurrences on workers, families and employers, isn’t it time for decisive regulatory action on this issue in all Canadian jurisdictions?

In a thoughtful article, “Working Alone: A Look at Legislation in Canada“, OHS lawyer and consultant Norm Keith (2011: 59) provides a fitting response to this question:

This failure to adequately prioritize the issue of working alone as a significant risk for workers across Canada should be addressed… Unfortunately, the political will and media attention needed to effect legislative change will likely only occur if a high-profile workplace injury or death arises from a working alone situation.”

As Keith observes, history suggests that it will be in the wake of lone worker deaths or injuries that the full-throated call for government action will be made. The pessimist in me is resigned to wait for the inevitable high profile incidents that will form the impetus for change. The optimist in me yearns for a day when proactive legislators in the respective jurisdictions “do the right thing” on lone worker safety.

David Hyde, M.Sc., CPC
David Hyde and Associates

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David Hyde

Security and business risk consultant at David Hyde and Associates
David Hyde, M.Sc, CPC is a security and business risk consultant, author and educator with 26 years of broad-based leadership experience. He is principal consultant with David Hyde and Associates and in this role is a trusted advisor to a number of Canada’s top corporations on operational and reputational due diligence matters. Read more
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