OHS Canada Magazine

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.”

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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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