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Retail Stores and the Threat of Violence: Is Your Company at Risk?

By: Ariana B. Bianchi

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Workplace violence is the leading cause of workplace fatality, and retail establishments, especially those open late, have an elevated risk. Although the retail industry is not traditionally considered a high hazard industry, approximately 11 percent of all occupational fatalities have been in retail. These fatalities, generally attributed to homicide, most frequently occur in gasoline stations, convenience and grocery stores, eating and drinking establishments, and even jewelry stores. The most common type of workplace fatality comes from robberies involving the shooting of a worker, and the retail workers with an above-average risk include gasoline service and garage workers, stock handlers and baggers, sales supervisors and proprietors, and salescounter clerks. Of these retail occupations, liquor store employees are much more likely to be killed violently on the job than any other retail employee.

Common Risk Factors
So why are retail workers at such great risk? Well, there are a variety of risk factors that come into play. Retail stores tend to have a greater exposure to the public than other industries. Money is frequently exchanged in plain view and kept in cash registers on-site. Also, retail employees often work alone or in small numbers, and their shifts can range from the early morning hours to late into the night when there are fewer people around. Additionally, retail stores may control valuable property or possessions, and these items may seem especially desirable and accessible.

There are still other risk factors. Being in the role of a delivery person, having a mobile workstation, or working in a high crime area are all indicators of heightened risk. Female employees, especially those that work alone or late at night, face another significant risk: sexual assault. In fact, the risk of sexual assault for women is equal to or greater than the risk of homicide for employees in general.

Many risk factors exist, and some retail employees may be exposed to multiple risk factors. The presence of multiple risk factors, as well as a history of violence in the establishment or surrounding community, should indicate to the employer that the potential for workplace violence is higher than average.

The greatest risk of workplace homicide comes from the violence inflicted by third parties such as robbers and muggers. A 1975 study found that the establishments most attractive to robbers were ones that had poor outdoor lighting, large amounts of cash on hand, unobstructed views of the counters, and easy escape routes. Subsequent studies have also shown that a low risk of recognition due to a lack of cameras, a lack of customers, poor visibility from outside the store, a lack of police or armed guards, a lack of traffic, or a scarcity of nearby businesses, increases the appeal of the store for robbers.

Workplace Hazard Analysis
So is your company at risk? Consider conducting a workplace hazard analysis to find out. A workplace hazard analysis involves a step-by-step common-sense look at the workplace to find existing and potential threats. This involves reviewing records of past experiences, conducting an initial worksite inspection and security analysis, and performing periodic safety audits.

Step 1: Review Records and Past Experiences
Collect and examine any existing records from the past 2-3 years that may reveal information on the severity and frequency of the risk of violence in the workplace. Some records to review include injury and illness records, workers' compensation claims, and police reports. Additionally, speaking with employees about past incidents could be helpful. Consider using the following questions as a starting point:
  • Has your business been robbed during the last 2-3 years? Were robberies attempted? Did injuries occur?
  • Have employees been assaulted in altercations with customers?
  • Have employees been victimized by other criminal acts at work (such as shoplifting that became assaultive)? What kind?
  • Have employees been threatened or harassed while on duty? What was the context?
  • What part of the business was the target of a robbery or incident?
  • At what time of day have robberies or other incidents occurred?
  • In each of the cases with injuries, how severe were the injuries?
  • In each case, was a firearm used? Discharged? Were other weapons used?
  • How many employees were on duty?
  • What tasks were the employees performing during the robberies or incidents?
  • Were preventative measures already in place and used correctly?
  • What were the actions of the victims?
  • Were the police called to your establishment?


It may also be a good idea to contact similar businesses in your area or civic groups to learn about other incidents of violence and any trends that are emerging.

Step 2: Worksite Inspection and Security Analysis
An initial risk assessment to identify hazards, operations, situations, and conditions that could lead to violence should be done. The assessment, which should include a walkthrough survey, will provide the data necessary to develop a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. The assessment should include an analysis of incidents, the identification of injury and incident trends, the identification of factors that increase the risk of violence, and the evaluation of current security measures for their effectiveness.

Step 3: Perform Periodic Safety Audits
Once the assessment has been reviewed and security controls have been put in place based on the assessment findings, periodic safety audits should occur to determine the ongoing effectiveness of the controls and to determine if any new hazards exist. A safety audit is especially important after a violent incident.

For more information on violence prevention and control, contact The Human Equation at 954-382-0030.

Selected Bibliography

Reuters Health. Retail Workers at Risk for Violent Death. (Jan. 22). New York. http://www.personalmd.com/news/a1999012208.shtml

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). (1996). Current Intelligence Bulletin 57: Violence in the Workplace-Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies. Publication No. 96-100. Cincinnati, OH.

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). (1998). Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments. Publication No. 3153. http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3153.pdf







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