Occupational violence in fast food restaurants and petrol stations

Free Access

The Australian media has been abuzz over the last couple of days on several issues concerning violence.  Attention increases whenever there is video involved and the latest film of a bashing in Melbourne in a Hungry Jack’s store in the early hours of 13 July 2009 is getting a considerable run.

Most commentators are taking the bashing of 19-year-old Luke Adams as an example of “street violence”.  SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that the fact that this event occurred between customers in a workplace, raises questions about the obligations of retail store owners towards health and safety.

The case of Luke Adams again illustrates the reality that surveillance cameras can assist in the apprehension of criminals but does little to reduce the harm to employees and customers.  This seems to be contrary to the OHS principles in Australian OHS legislation.

SafetyAtWorkBlog would ask any retailers who choose to operate, particularly, during nighttime

  • Are the stores designed to reduce (hopefully eliminate) the risk of violent contact between customers and staff?
  • Are there restrictions on the age or gender of staff who work nightshift?
  • Is the first aid training provided to staff designed to accommodate the emergency treatment of severely injured customers?
  • Has the presence of a security guard been tried during nightshifts?
  • Would the company consider closing a store if the risks to staff and customers became unacceptable?

SafetyAtWorkBlog knows of at least one fast food restaurant in Melbourne that removed its public toilets because of the number of drug overdoses that occurred in the cubicles.  This store eventually closed its 24-hour store, partly, because of the unacceptable risk that developed.

The unfortunate linking of fast food restaurants with violent attacks is an issue of all-night trading as much as any other reason.  It was just over two weeks ago that a fight in the grounds of a Hungry Jacks restaurant in suburban Melbourne was reported and wrapped into the current topic of supposedly racist-based attacks against Indian students.

The attacks are not limited to Melbourne though.  A 19-year-old Korean student, Lee Joonyub, was killed in Sydney in 2008 after being stabbed at a fast-food restaurant

AIC Service Station Violence coverThe risk of occupational violence, as it is more traditionally understood, is increasing according to findings released on 16 July 2009 by the Australian Institute of Criminology.  Its report, which also received some media attention from radio, finds that

“The incidence of service station armed robbery has steadily increased over the past decade. ….. This opportunistic targeting of service stations has been attributed to their extended opening hours, their sale of cigarettes and other exchangeable goods, their high volume of cash transactions and their isolation from other businesses. Widespread adoption of crime prevention measures by service stations, such as transfer trays, could help reduce their risk of being robbed…..”

The full report is worth reading closely from an OHS perspective as it identifies the characteristics of services stations (and maybe other all-night retail outlets) that are attractive to the opportunistic robber.  We should not dismiss armed robberies as only involving monetary loss to retailers as the study showed that “one-third of armed robbery victims…were individual”.

The AIC report also states that

“…minimal staffing on night shift is seen to increase the risk of armed robbery victimization for service stations.”

This brings in all the OHS advice and research concerning working alone or in isolation.  However there must be some sympathy for employers trying to recruit night shift workers for industries where violence is an increasing risk.

The mention of the hazard control measure of transfer trays is gratifying as it fits with a higher order of control measure in OHS parlance by providing an engineering control.  However this needs to be backed up by specific training for employees on what to do when required to render assistance outside the enclosed booth.

The application of transfer trays may be valid for fast food stores at nighttime by only offering a drive-thru service and further reducing the risk of customer violence against employees.

Pages from VWAHotspots_retail_10_10Regardless of the physical harm from work tasks arising from working in retail, WorkSafe Victoria advises of four control measures for what it describes as the psychological system of stress, bullying and harassment:

  • Your workplace culture and management should encourage open and effective communication.
  • Develop, implement and enforce clear policies and procedures that address bullying, occupational violence, harassment and work pressure in consultation with workers (including young workers) and management.
  • Where money is handled, put in place security measures to reduce the risk of occupational violence.
  • Training and procedures should include all staff at risk, including any casual or on hire workers.

Kevin Jones

Tasers as personal protective equipment

Free Access

SafetyAtWorkBlog supports the use of tasers, or stun guns, as a control measure that eliminates or reduces the chances of a police officer being seriously injured but concerns continue around the world about the application of tasers. In 2008 the New South Wales government came to a decision of sorts on tasers.   Following the recent death of a man in Queensland from a taser, the focus has shifted to that States.

In an OHS context tasers could almost be considered a piece of active personal protective equipment (PPE), if there can be such a thing.

Recently Dr Jared Strote of the Division of Emergency Medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center said

“It is fairly clear that the use of TASERs on healthy individuals is rarely dangerous (there are hundreds of thousands of uses in the US without serious outcomes). The question is whether there is a subset of people for whom there is a higher risk.

The problem is that the individuals who have died in custody temporally associated to TASER use are the same types who are at higher risk of death during police restraint no matter what type of force is used.”

Dr Strote also illustrates the cost/benefit issue that OHS professionals must deal with constantly

“The issue is probably less whether or not TASERs can cause death (they probably can but very infrequently); the better question is whether their net benefits (potential to avoid using more lethal weapons (like firearms), potential to decrease risk to officers, etc.) outweigh the potential costs.”

Two studies by Dr Strote – “Injuries Associated With Law Enforcement Use Of Conducted Electrical Weapons” and “Injuries Associated With Law Enforcement Use Of Force,” were presented at a forum in New Orleans in mid-May 2009.

A UK expert, Dr Anthony Bleetman, a consultant in emergency medicine says

“Tasers have been used on human subjects probably about a million times, some in training and a lot in operational deployment. With any use of force there is a risk of death. But when you look at the big picture the death rate after Taser is no higher than with other types of force. But what we do know is that there is a certain type of individual who is at greater risk of death after police intervention – the so-called excited delirium state where somebody, usually a male in their 20s or 30s, often with a psychiatric history, often on illicit drugs or psychotropic drugs, has been in a fight or pursuit, physically exhausted, not feeling pain, dehydrated and hypoxic. And then you add on top of that physical restraint by police. These are the ones that die and they die whether you Taser them or don’t Taser them.”

Bleetman explains the role of tasers in comparison with other active PPP:

“Police officers have a whole spectrum of options to use in force from talking to people to laying their hands on people to using capsicum sprays, batons and dogs. And then there’s a gap until you get to firearms when you shoot people. So between batons, dogs, sprays and guns, Tasers sit quite nicely to use against people who are so agitated and so dangerous to themselves and others that the only way to take them down is something as lethal as a gun or as dangerous as a police dog.”

Many American studies and statistics must be treated with caution as tasers are readily available to the general public and therefore operate unregulated. However in 2005 the American Civil Liberties Union undertook a study of law enforcement agencies. According to an Associated Press report from the time written by Kim Curtis:

“The ACLU surveyed 79 law enforcement agencies in Northern and central California, according to spokesman Mark Schlosberg. Of those, 56 use Tasers and 54 agencies provided the ACLU with copies of their training materials and policies regarding stun gun use. Among the organisation’s major concerns was that only four departments regulate the number of times an officer may shoot someone with a Taser gun.”

This last point has been one of the most contentious points of the recent case in Queensland where a police taser was discharged 28 times.

Taser use is a very complex issue, as are most PPE and OHS issues when dealing with emergency services. It may be possible to take some hope from the deterrent effect of tasers identified by the Delaware State Police in some recent budget papers:

“We have encountered numerous incidents where the mere presence of the Taser on the troopers’ belts has discouraged defendants from resisting arrest.”

Kevin Jones

Sex trafficking and brothels

Free Access

Every employee has the right to a safe and healthy work environment.  It was this statement and belief that pushed me to providing OHS advice to the legal brothel industry in Victoria.  The industry is frowned upon by most but used by many, and yet the OHS support for the industry is far less than that provided for many other legal businesses.

Over the years sex trafficking, or slavery, has gained a lot of attention, more so, in my opinion, than other examples of illegal migration and worker  exploitation.  Articles in The Age newspaper today report on approaches to brothel owners and managers from people who have women for sale.  Regardless of the industry in which this occurs, this practice is abhorrent and the full weight of the law should be focused on these slave traders.

But a point that is getting lost in the wilderness is that not all women working in brothels are illegal.  Almost all choose to work there for the same reasons anyone works anywhere.  Many academics, and Australia has some of the most rabid, see all sex work as exploitation, as slavery and degrading to women.

The question for safety professionals and advocates is whether the nature of the work discounts the workers’, and employers’, access to legitimate safety advice?  Can the moral switch be flicked off, even for a short time, in order to provide workers in this industry with the same level of occupational health and safety as any other worker can rightfully demand?  Does the switch need turning off?

The statement at the start of this blog, that is reflected in OHS legislation around the world, is not selective, it applies to all.

The legal brothel industry has a long way to go in achieving the levels of OHS compliance that other small businesses have already gained.  The established hazards of manual handling, ergonomics, noise, etc are largely dealt with but consider those issues that have entered the occupational area over the last decade or so.  

Ask yourselves how would the owner of a legal brothel, a business where (predominantly) women have sex with multiple partners over their shift, deal with these contemporary hazards:

  • Stress
  • Bullying
  • Fatigue
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Security

And then ask yourselves how the OHS profession and discipline would deal with these workplace issues?

  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Sprains and strains
  • Hygiene
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Working in isolation

I judge the success of safety management systems in companies by the level of knowledge the most isolated worker has about safety in that workplace.   I ask the teleworkers, the night-shift workers, the security guards, the cleaners, the maintenance staff…  These employees, if a safety management system is working properly, should have the same level of safety knowledge, and the same level of access to OHS support, as those workers on day shift in a  head office.

I also judge the safety profession and the regulators on the success of their safety initiatives, the level of their safety commitment, by looking at how OHS is accepted and implemented at those industries on the fringes of society, like the brothel industry.  If the workers in these industries and the owners of these businesses are treated differently because of the nature of the work, we need to reassess our commitment to safety and the professional vows many of us took to ensure everyone has a safe and healthy work environment.

Kevin Jones

A March 2008 podcast on the issue of sex trafficking in Australia is available HERE 

 

 

CEO loses job over safety failures

Free Access

Health funding and management is a constant political issue.  The attention increases hugely during election campaigns like the one that is currently occurring in the Australian state of Queensland.

This week the leader of the opposition parties, Lawrence Springborg, called for the release of a government report into the sexual attack on a nurse and security in Torres Strait islands.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has written repeatedly on OHS issues associated with the attack in February 2008.  Springborg has pledged increased safety resources for remote area nurses.

Queensland Health reports on 25 February 2009 that the CEO of the Torres Strait District’s health service CEO has been stood aside as a result of the government’s investigation.  The statement reads

“Director-General Michael Reid said the Crime and Misconduct Commission had reviewed the report by the Ethical Standards Unit and was satisfied with the investigation.
“Some allegations that members of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District executive did not act appropriately were upheld by this investigation,” he said. “We accept this investigation has found serious faults in the way Queensland Health staff responded to this critical incident and we are taking immediate action.”
The CEO of the Torres Strait-Northern Peninsula District has been stood down, effective immediately, while her role with Queensland Health is under further consideration.”

Many of the issues raised relate to possible corruption and improper behaviour by the Queensland Health and others.  These are the political points that Springborg is likely to chase.  

In terms of occupational health and safety, the focus of this blog, Queensland Health says

“There is substantial evidence that there has been a systemic failure by the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District to acknowledge and address workplace health and safety issues within the District over a long period of time.”

“There is sufficient evidence to conclude, on the balance of probabilities, that members of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District (TSNPHSD)
Executive responded inappropriately and insensitively when notified of the alleged rape of a Remote Island Nurse on Mabuiag Island on or around 5 February 2008.”

“Further, there is sufficient evidence exists to find, on the balance of probabilities, that the repatriation of the remote area nurse from the outer islands as not managed or coordinated at a level cognisant with the seriousness of the events which had occurred.”

It is no wonder the CEO of the health service has lost her job.  It is a little surprising that more, and more prominent, heads have not rolled.  It is suspected that this may be one of the aims of the opposition politicians during the current election campaign.

To return to our core issue of OHS and accountability, this result clearly indicates that senior executives, particularly in the public sector in this instance, must take a preventative approach to the health, safety and security of their staff, wherever the employee is located.

Kevin Jones

Safety challenges for English pantomime

Free Access

Today, the UK Daily Mail published an example of the mish-mash of safety management problems that are confusing the public about what an OHS professional does.

An amateur Christmas pantomime is confused by the plethora of safetyand health obligations being placed on them by, it is assumed, a variety of regulators.  Let me speculate on what may be behind some of the issues.

“scenery is free from sharp edges” – a good set designer, even an amateur one, should already have this aim as part of their skills.  Backstage in theatrical productions is notoriously dark and often full of people, round the edges of scenery is not an unreasonable expectation.

The theatre company chairman says that the facility is not the best.

“Mr Smith, 59, a training manager, also claims that Brierley Hill Civic Hall’s backstage facilities are ‘poorer than Cinderella’s kitchen’ making it all the more difficult to meet the health and safety requirements.”

Ice cream and milk temperature is a matter of food safety.  These can easily be managed by the facility manager providing suitable refrigeration.  If the facility is a regular venue for theatrical productions it is not unreasonable to expect the venue to be fit-for-purpose.  Graeme Smith says that the company has already solved the issue to some degree:

“The 100-strong am-dram group, which was first formed 60 years ago, has also bought a freezer because it does not trust the reliability of the venue’s, Mr Smith said”

Clearly, Mr Smith has as many problems with the venue as he does with the safety needs of his production.

Climbing a beanstalk with a harness – many theatrical productions have incorporated harness into aerial effects or revised their sets and direction to depict climbing without physically climbing 30 feet.  This is a pantomime and it involves acting so act like you’re climbing a beanstalk.

Chaperoning children – mothers of stage children have been doing this for years.  The nature of backstage may require supervision of children to reduce the hazards of dozens of excited children causing problems and creating hazards for other stage workers.  Depending on the layout of the facility the dressing rooms may some way from the stage, perhaps through public areas, and supervision is not an unreasonable expectation.

“do not enter the props storage area” – all workplaces have areas that restrict unauthorised access for good reason.  Supervision may be the best available control measure for the circumstances.  The article refers to pyrotechnics.  If these were to be used in this production and the pyrotechnics were stored in the props area, entry restriction would be more than reasonable.

“inform the audience before the performance if pyrotechnics are to be used.”  It is peculiar that the audience is informed as pyrotechnics should be configured to operate with no risk to audience, actors, or stage staff.  If the reason for this advice is fire safety, then this relates again to the suitability of the facility itself, to fireproofing, fire exits etc.  Given the fires that have resulted from unsafe use indoors of pyrotechnics over the last few years, increased warnings seems appropriate.

I am not sure about the need to identify curtain users but the need to prevent people falling into the orchestra pit is obvious.  It is implied that this would only occur outside of productions and rehearsals and, in that case, this would be the responsibility of the facility manager.  Boarding up the pit may be an excessive control measure and alternative barriers may be appropriate.  Again this also relates to the initial design of the facility.

There are enough hints in the article to show that the suitability of the Brierley Hill Civic Centre for theatrical productions needs to be reviewed.  Many of the theatre company problems seem to be to accommodate design and layout deficiencies.

The Australian theatrical union issued safety guidelines for live theatre productions in 1999

The HSE and the Association of British Theatre Technicians has safety guidelines on pyrotechnics  and a range of other publications related to theatrical productions.

Clearly there is no “idiot’s guide to amateur productions” but there may be a need for such a publication.  The experience of the Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Company shows how one small event can be bombarded by attacks from all sides when all the company wants to do is put on a pantomime.  Theatrical productions have always been big management challenges and health and safety has always been part of this process. 

It was a fantasy sixty years ago when Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney could put an elaborate stage show together overnight in the movies. It remains a fantasy.

Kevin Jones