REGINA (Canadian OH&S News)
In the wake of several high-profile convenience store and gas station deaths across the country, Saskatchewan is making moves to strengthen its labour laws to better protect late-night workers against such violence.
At the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) convention in Regina on Nov. 3, labour minister Don Morgan introduced new rules that he said will better protect late-night retail workers, including those who work in convenience stores and gas stations, and those who face an especially high risk of assaults.
A statement from Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety cited safe cash handling procedures, use of video cameras and the provision of good visibility and signage for all late-night premises as part of the improvements. As well, the ministry went on to say, establishments will require a check-in system and personal emergency transmitters will be provided to all clerks working alone on the late shift.
Glennis Bihun, executive director of the province’s occupational health and safety department, added that those mandatory regulations are part of the overall workplace hazard assessment programs.
“The hazard assessment ensures that the employer takes a look at what the potential hazards are and what the risk of those hazards might be,” Bihun said. “It provides an opportunity for an employer to do an assessment to identify the kinds of things in addition to the mandatory security measures they might need to do to minimize or eliminate the risk of violence for workers.”
Such efforts come in response to the death of Jimmy Ray Wiebe in 2011. Weibe was shot by armed robbers while working the late shift at a Shell gas station in Yorkton, Sask., near the Manitoba border. That spawned Jimmy’s Law, an initiative calling on the government to improve protections in 24-hour workplaces.
The federation, which represents almost 100,000 workers, lauded the government’s efforts to move towards safer environments for late-shift staffers.
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“We’re pleased that the government is actually taking the first step to recognize that people who work in 24-hour convenience stores and gas stations are very vulnerable, and are often the victims of violence,” said Larry Hubich, president of the SFL, but he did suggest more options, such as bulletproof and shatterproof barriers or windows between customers and clerks, a pay-before-you-pump system, and a buddy system that would ensure at least two workers are on duty during every shift as measures that could help further improve safety.
The Western Convenience Stores Association also commended the government for “recognizing best practices proven to protect employees and the public during late night retail hours,” a news release from the association said, adding that it is developing a recognition program for convenience store owners in the province who implement safety standards that apply at all hours of the day and go beyond the requirements of the new regulations.
Bihun said that the current changes put the onus on the employers and alleviate any unnecessary pressures on the workers.
“That’s why we focus on the hazard assessment and minimize the risk, do these mandatory things that keep in mind the safety of all workers. We don’t want to create any presumption that by having two workers, that eliminates the risk, because we believe it would not, and it might put more workers at risk,” she said, adding that “compliance with regulations of the safety rules or laws protects workers; that’s the bottom line of why they exist.”
Those rules coincide with Bill 23, which aims to clarify and enhance the province’s current workplace safety legislation and officially came into effect on Nov. 7. A statement added that two more efforts — namely increases to proposed fines for oh&s violations and the requirement to designate a prime contractor in certain sectors — will be tabled in separate review of labour legislation and the Saskatchewan Employment Act later this fall.
Late-night retail employees will begin to see the new regulations come into force as early as mid-January of next year.