Preparing for occupational violence in fast food outlets

On 17 December 2010, the parents of Luke Adams were abused outside a court in Melbourne, Australia.  The mother of the killer of Luke Adams berated the parents after her son received further time in jail.

SafetyAtWorkBlog touched on Luke Adams’ death in an article in 2009 in which we pointed out that several violent deaths had occurred in, and around, fast-food restaurants and yet there is little focus on the role of the restaurants in these incidents.

On 4 January 2011, the media is reporting that McDonalds has issued a security warning to its restaurants after a couple of violent robberies on its Victorian stores in the last few days.

Such acts in fast-food establishments are particularly worrying because of the young age of many workers in the sector.  Over this holiday period in Australia, many teenagers experience their first “real” work in fast-food outlets and other than working very long shifts (that’s a different story) the experience should present them with a positive approach to work.

McDonalds and other food retailers are in a difficult OHS position over worker safety.  Other businesses are able to erect some form of barrier between customers and staff but fast-food outlets have open counters, partly, because a large portion of the clientele are children.  Wire barriers, perspex or other types of “guards” are also a barrier to the experience of purchasing that the companies want to project.

Certainly it is the case that many fast-food restaurants close their drive-thru facilities at night-time.  Others restrict entry and exit points.  Others appear to place age limits for workers on night-shift.

In terms of the recent AAP article mentioned above, McDonalds has reacted quickly and early to a potentially deadly trend.  It is hoped that similar fast-food outlets pay particular attention to the hazard and upgrade their OHS management procedures accordingly.

Although these recent attacks have been few, the hazard of occupational violence on retail outlets is a hazard that needs serious planning. In the 2002 book “Violence at Work“, one chapter by Vaughan Bowie, referencing the research of others, stated

“In the USA, bar, liquor store, service station, hotel and motel, grocery shop, eating and drinking establishment, and jewellery and convenience store workers were at a very high risk of robbery-related violence.  A five-year study of one town in Florida found 96% of all convenience stores had been robbed, 36% of fast-food outlets, 21% of service stations and 16% of liquor stores, with robbers frequently assuming the identity of a customer as a pretext to entry.”

The Australian Institute of Criminology identified various control measures against armed robbery in a factsheet in April 2009.  It said:

“…industry sectors have a range of potentially effective situational crime prevention measures available to implement.  These include simple yet effective techniques such as high customer visibility inside premises, regular staff training in safe money-handling procedures and limiting the amount of money kept on premises.  High-level prevention techniques include security screens, alarms, double security doors and CCTV (Matthews 2002).  The implementation of such measures would benefit most industry sectors in attempts to reduce armed robbery.”

Workplace bullying gets a great deal of media and regulatory attention, sometimes to the detriment of the traditional external threats like robbery and violence.  And yet, the retail industry, and fast-food in particular, employs some of the youngest and most vulnerable workers.  Violent attacks by customers or robbers need to be anticipated (some may say, expected) and workplace designed to minimise the threat and the damage.  In relation to this type of occupational hazard and this age group, some of the new-age “resilience” approaches should not be given priority over design solutions.  Young workers are too important to give less than the best protection.

Kevin Jones

UPDATE: 6 January 2010

In response to a request from SafetyAtWorkBlog, Peter Breckenridge, National Director of Development, McDonald’s Australia says:

“We are working closely with the police, assisting them with their investigations and taking their advice on appropriate security measures.

“Ensuring the safety of our employees and customers is our top priority. We are providing counselling services to our employees and customers who have been impacted by these incidents.

“We take as many measures as possible to ensure that our customers and staff are kept safe at all times, such as through intensive employee training, strict security protocols, CCTV and consultative working relationships with local police.

“We will continue to work with the police and our restaurant teams to review and reinforce our security procedures.”

Categories assault, business, hazards, occupational, OHS, safety, Uncategorized, violence, youngTags , ,

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