July 21, 2016 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 1Comment

The leading cause of death among retail workers is robbery-related assaults. One of the latest victims is Zachary Benavidez, 23, a clerk at the Diamond Food Mart in San Antonio, TX. He died on June 8 from gunshot wounds inflicted by criminals during an attempted robbery.

Workers like Benavidez are seven times more likely to die from work-related violence than workers in other industries. Convenience store owners and those of other retail establishments can take precautions to prevent such incidents. The industry’s trade associations and law enforcement groups have developed best practices to reduce the risk of violent-injury incidents (e.g., here, here, here) but not all businesses adopt those measures. Why not?

NIOSH researcher Cammie Chaumont Menéndez and colleagues explored that question in a study published in a recent edition of Injury Prevention. Two cities in Texas—-Dallas and Houston—-adopted ordinances that require convenience store operators to take a number of measures to reduce violent crime in their establishments. The NIOSH researchers conducted a survey of about 300 store manager in each city to identify which, if any, of the ordinance requirements were in place at their convenience store. The requirements include environmental design improvements such as visibility through doors and windows and surveillance cameras, as well as procedural ones including safety training and an ownership registration with the police department. The ordinance in Houston has nine specific requirements and the one in Dallas is comparable.

Here’s some of what the NIOSH researchers found:

  • Only 3 percent of the convenience stores in Houston complied fully with the ordinance. Three percent??  In Dallas, it was a meager 15 percent.
  • Requirements for having “no loitering/trespassing” signs and providing clerks an unobstructed line of sight from the cash register through all windows and public access doors, were the ones most often missing from the stores’ operations. When those requirements were taken out of the picture, compliance in the stores surveyed in Houston and Dallas was still only 36 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

The researchers offered the store managers a list of reason to choose from in order to ascertain why they were not complying with each requirement. The options included:

  • Too busy
  • Too expensive
  • Unnecessary
  • Unaware of importance
  • Unknown/Other

“Unaware of importance,” for example, was a prevalent response to the requirements to watch a special training video and display specific signage. The same reason was prevalent for the requirement to maintain the clerk’s visibility through windows and doors. The authors note:

“…small retail stores use window space to advertise available products and promotions for their store and space is usually limited.”

I appreciate the authors pointing out this challenge. I’d not previously thought about the safety benefits of an unobstructed view for the clerks. That certainly can’t happen with the store’s plate glass windows plastered with posters about the sale price on milk, soda pop, and cigarettes.

The researchers also make some interesting observations on the responses provided by corporate/franchise stores versus single-owner stores. With respect to having a drop safe, the former were more likely to respond “too expensive,” while the latter’s answer was most often “unnecessary.” The same two responses were also notably prevalent for not complying with requirements to have an alarm systems and surveillance cameras. The penalty for failing to comply with an ordinance is $500 or less. Only 3 percent of the survey respondents reported being cited for non-compliance.

Satish Patel, 58, Bino Castro, 40, and Sam Sadruddin are just a few of the Houston area retail clerks who were murdered on-the-job. The community remembered them during the city’s Worker Memorial Day commemorations. What I don’t know is whether the establishments in which they worked were in compliance with the city’s convenience store ordinance. It’s something I’ll be looking into during the weeks ahead.

The next step for the NIOSH researchers is  to evaluate the crime rate among the convenience stores in Dallas and Houston with respect to implementation of the ordinances.




One thought on “Convenience store operators snub crime-prevention ordinances

  1. An interesting question how does compliance/non compliance with the ordinance affect insurance rates? If the measures really make a difference then the insurance companies should see it in their results and price accordingly. Of course one other thing to push for is to raise the limit for workmans comp to say 10 million for a fatal injury.

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