Employees working alone late at night or in the early morning hours can be extremely vulnerable, particularly if their job involves handling money in a business such as a gas station, pharmacy, or convenience store. You’re no doubt aware you need to make your workplace safer to prevent accidents, but you also have a duty of care to protect these lone workers who might be at risk of injury through an attack or robbery.
Building Security, Design, and Layout
Specific working alone legislation varies by province and is nonexistent in some. Regardless of legal requirements, it’s good practice to make a hazard assessment of your workplace to identify potential risks and put in place safety measures to reduce them. Simple steps include:
- installing a counter that’s sufficiently high and deep to provide the employee some protection from physical attack
- locating a panic button within easy reach
- keeping shelves at a low height for good visibility inside the store
- keeping windows free from clutter and displays so passersby can see inside and call for help if necessary
- installing surveillance cameras
- installing protective shielding and/or letting the employee lock themselves inside a room or building and take payment through a window
- making sure all areas inside and out are well lit, and checking and replacing light bulbs regularly
Handling money and keeping cash on the premises puts lone employees most at risk from a robbery. To minimize risk:
- encourage customers to pay by card whenever possible
- avoid any set routines for emptying the cash register, and transport money in a regular bag or backpack
- install a locked drop safe and instruct your employee to remove large bills from the cash register as soon as possible
- place visible signs telling customers that you only keep a minimal amount of cash, such as less than $50 on the premises
Prevention is the best action, and onboarding a new employee should include training on how to stay safe, use the security system, and deal with emergency situations when working alone. Your local police force can offer training in how to prevent a robbery and the best way to behave if one takes place. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers a range of online courses such as Dealing with Difficult or Hostile Customers. Simple tips like keeping away from the cash register when the store is empty and avoiding prolonged eye contact with suspicious individuals can prevent situations from turning nasty.
Employees can be at their most vulnerable when leaving after a long shift. Helpful strategies include leaving by an exit that’s well-lit, having their car keys ready in their hand, and locking all the car doors once inside. If they’re aware of suspicious characters loitering inside or outside the premises, they should call the police and request a patrol check. You should advise them not to carry any form of weapon as it’s illegal in some jurisdictions, and there’s also a risk of the weapon being used to harm the employee.
Also consider whether you really need to have employees working these shifts alone. Maybe you could close during the high-risk hours of late night, early morning. Alternatively, consider paying for an additional worker.
The trauma experienced by an employee involved in an attack or robbery can be upsetting to the individual and their family, and costly for you and your business. If you feel you have no option other than to have lone workers, training and security measures that help keep them safe and knowing what to do if a bad situation occurs can help everyone feel more secure.