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Fuel theft fatality brings calls for new safety legislation

TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)


TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)

The issue of gas-and-dash fatalities was once again thrust into the spotlight after the death of a gas station attendant in midtown Toronto.

Just after 9 p.m. on Sept. 15, officers from the Toronto Police Service (TPS) responded to a call at a Shell Canada gas station reporting that a man driving an SUV filled up with more than $110 in fuel and then left the station without paying. Gas station attendant Jayesh Prajapati, 44, was struck by the vehicle while trying to stop the theft and was taken to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries, a TPS news release said.

Matt Blajer, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, said that although the primary investigation is criminal in nature, the ministry is conducting an investigation to determine if the employer, or an independent owner if applicable, has workplace violence policies and programs in place as prescribed under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

“One of the things that needs to be addressed is gas-and-dash,” Blajer said. “So we’re investigating that, seeing if they have policies and people are trained in them, and then they’re implemented.”

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) has called for a criminal negligence investigation, citing allegations that the owner of the Shell franchise where the fatality occurred may have employed an unofficial policy of docking worker wages for gasoline theft that occurred on their shift.

The OFL has launched a “Bad Gas Rip-Off Hotline” asking for anonymous tips on franchise owners and companies.

“If gas companies are telling employees not to intervene in criminal activities then they can’t allow bosses to blame workers for customer theft and illegally dock wages,” said OFL president Sid Ryan in a statement. “It renders the policy meaningless and puts tremendous pressure on minimum-wage workers to put their lives in harm’s way to protect their income.”

David Williams, head of media relations for Shell Canada Limited in Calgary, noted that while the company does not dictate what the terms of employment are between retailers and their sales associates, it does require retail operators comply with all laws and regulations. “The Ontario Employment Standards Act prohibits employers from deducting wages because the employer had property stolen and any person other than the staff member has access to the property,” he said.

The company has “reminded operators that it is illegal to charge sales associates for drive-aways, and that there will continue to be zero tolerance for this in the Shell network,” Williams said, noting sales associates are trained to observe any suspicious activity so if a drive-away does occur, they can assist police in apprehending the suspect.

“We will ensure that any lessons from this extremely sad incident are incorporated into ways of doing business within the Shell network for the future,” he said, adding that the company is conducting its own investigation into the incident.

Blajer said that the province has been examining how other jurisdictions are approaching the gas-and-dash issue. Some factors to consider include the cost of installing mandatory prepaid systems in rural gas stations with limited resources and legislative issues, Blajer said, noting that the Ministry of Consumer Services typically regulates business matters.

Five days after the fatal incident, Liberal MPP Mike Colle introduced a private members bill called “Jayesh’s Law” that would impose penalties on employers who force gas station employees to pay for thefts out of their own pocket, require payment before pumping gas and suspend the license of those caught stealing gas.

The idea of prepaid systems was first considered in Ontario last year following another gas-and-dash fatality in Mississauga. On May 19, gas attendant Hashem Rad, 62, was struck and killed by a vehicle that was fleeing a Petro-Canada station with unpaid gas [COHSN, June 13, 2011].

Ontario is not the first province to propose mandatory prepayment. A pay-then-pump system was instituted in British Columbia in 2008 after the death of Grant De Patie in Maple Ridge in March of 2005.

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5 Comments » for Fuel theft fatality brings calls for new safety legislation
  1. Patrick says:

    Prepay with credit card or cash – problem solved – that simple

  2. Mike says:

    Virtually every gas pump I have seen in the last years all have pay at the pump. So people have a choice, use their card at the pump, as is the current situation, or walk their cash into the store then come out and pump their gas. The level of inconvenience is the same, just in reverse order. As for charging an employee for the criminal acts of another, that is just ridiculous. Whats next, a bank teller will be responsible for the cash she shoves in the armed robbers sack……

  3. Walter McLean says:

    While the ‘pay at the pump’ has the initial cost of refitting or replacement of existing pumps to facilitate, the theft of gas will continue, potentially placing employees at risk. It took some time for the public to adjust to the process in B.C. after Grant’s Law was passed. Yes there were some grumbles, but it is now second nature to pay before you pump. That station workers continue to put their lives on the line to stop fuel theft is unacceptable. Thanks for your time.

  4. Paul E. Marquis CSO CHSC says:

    Response to Mike, and all others that are ignorant of owners ‘modi operandi’ at the retail level. Minimum wage earners have historically been held responsible, by most if not all, retail business owners that have workers collecting cash at the till, or on the fly. Whether it be in a flea market, at your local fast food chain, in the pub down the road, just ask your server the next time you order; “if you’re short your till at the end of the shift, how is it handled?” Many of you will be surprised by the answer. Less of an issue in a night club when ‘TIPS’ will make up for a majority of errors, or misleading customer transactions. Than in a young person making an error at the drive through. Have you ever paid with a $5.00 and gotten change of a $20.00? The poor kid that made the mistake has likely paid it from their pocket, whether it be a son, or daughter, with a part time job who lives at home.. Or worse a single mom trying to make end meet! Ask around, its not a rocket science why these low wage earners put their life on the line, time and again. Until we correct the system, the fatalities will continue.

    Paul E. Marquis CSO CHSC
    Vancouver, BC in proximity to the 2005 fatality at the Maple Ridge pumps.

  5. Cam says:

    All these incidents will force is higher fuel prices as owners will have to carry liablity insurance.

    Seen a lot of explotation between employers and workers coming into the country on temparary visas, often the wages are very low and employers have been found to deduct living expenses and various other costs that they can not afford.

    I have seen a lot more intances of delinquient payments and conditions that would make a human rights inspector cringe.

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