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Whether you are a new convenience store owner or a seasoned franchisee, one of your top concerns should be the safety of your employees and customers. That is why it is so important to develop a safety plan to protect your business and your most valuable asset — your employees.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for every $1 invested in a safety and health program, a business owner can save $4 to $6 in insurance premiums, lost productivity and other business costs. Beyond being a best practice, promoting a safe workplace allows employees to feel confident in their ability to conduct their jobs with a minimum amount of risk.
The following is an easy three-step approach to develop and implement a safety program.
STEP ONE: RISK ANALYSIS
The first step in creating a safety plan is to assess and document any known or potential store hazards that could result in a workplace-related injury or illness.
Knowing where and how possible accidents could occur enables you to take proactive measures to prevent them. Many business owners involve their frontline employees in the risk assessment since they have firsthand knowledge of the overt and hidden dangers in their workplaces.
By far, the most common cause of employee injury in convenience stores is workplace violence. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that robbery-related assaults and homicides are the leading cause of death in retail businesses. Even more staggering, the CDC also reports that workers in convenience stores are seven times more likely to be the victims of a work-related homicide than people who work in other industries.
According to OSHA, there are several factors that put late-night retail workers at risk. These include:
- Access to cash;
- Isolated, solitary work;
- Selling alcohol;
- Poorly lit workplaces; and
- Lack of staff training in identifying and de-escalating violent behavior.
Business owners should establish clear policies for employees in cases of workplace violence, threatening situations or unstable customer behavior. OSHA provides a comprehensive handbook for owners of late-night retail establishments, including detailed information on specific steps to develop an effective violence prevention program.
Store design and procedural modifications can also reduce robberies and make employees safer. A recent study indicated businesses experienced a 30-percent to 84-percent decrease in robberies and a 61-percent decrease in non-fatal injuries when they increased cash controls and processes or updated their lighting and store design to improve visibility.
Beyond workplace violence, other risks common to the convenience store industry are:
Slips, Trips and Falls. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, across all industries, the most common workplace accidents are slips, trips and falls. In a busy convenience store, there are several areas on your property where liquids might pool and create a slick patch, including the areas around entryways, restrooms and self-serve soda fountains.
Make sure employees regularly monitor these areas for spilled drinks and splashed water. Keep a mop and bucket in an easily accessible place, along with signs cautioning wet surfaces. Place non-skid mats at entries and exits, and encourage workers to keep them smooth and flat, with no buckles or folds where someone could trip.
If your convenience store also has a gas pump, treat fuel spills with caution. If gas spills, immediately cover the area with cat litter or corn starch. Once it is absorbed, sweep up the remaining debris and dispose in an outdoor trash can. And although it should go without saying, never allow employees or customers to smoke near a fuel station.
Cuts. Frequent freight deliveries mean staff are often opening boxes of inventory and stocking shelves several times each week. To reduce the risk of injury, workers should use sharp, clean box knives that have a protective, retractable handle. They can also wear cut-resistant gloves to reduce the potential for a laceration. Keep a first aid kit stocked with bandages, gauze, tape and antibiotic ointment nearby in case any employee needs to treat an injury.
Back Injuries. Heavier freight (goods weighing more than 50 pounds) requires using proper lifting techniques. Items weighing more than 50 pounds should involve two people, or using a hand truck.
Burns. Hot coffee pots and food warmers can expose workers to potential burns. Make sure employees are trained to use tongs and wear gloves anytime they are interacting with a heat source to reduce the risks of burns. Safety gloves should be replaced anytime they become worn or develop holes.
If any accident results in a severe injury or illness, immediately seek the appropriate medical care.
STEP TWO: PLAN DEVELOPMENT
An effective safety program does not need to be extensive or time-consuming. It should, however, document each potential hazard identified in the risk analysis phase and provide clear, understandable steps to address each one. OSHA has several online resources to help business owners develop a safety plan. Your insurance carrier or agent can also help identify and manage workplace risk.
At a minimum, a safety plan should be reviewed at least once a year to make sure all employees understand proper procedures. The plan should be updated whenever new procedures or equipment are introduced in the work environment.
STEP THREE: TRAINING & REINFORCEMENT
Once the plan is developed, business owners should regularly review their policies and expectations with each employee. On average, convenience stores experience 77 percent turnover annually, with the average leave occurring in the first 90 days. As business owners are likely onboarding new staff throughout the year, new employees should receive a copy of the safety plan on their first day, as well as comprehensive training on the right protocols.
All employees can also benefit from regular refresher training. The easiest way to do this is to conduct the training outside of store hours so that everyone hears the same message at the same time. If your convenience store is open 24 hours a day, training sessions can be held in between shifts.
During the training, consider conducting “dry run” mock accidents to allow employees to put the plan into practice. Doing so also gives managers and/or owners the opportunity to observe workers in action and course-correct any missed steps or procedures.
Beyond the training, promote a culture of safety by emphasizing its role as a key business imperative. Safety rules should be prominently displayed in common areas, such as a breakroom, to reinforce expectations and demonstrate management’s commitment to fostering a safe work environment. Managers and owners should model ideal behaviors, and everyone should understand his or her role in keeping the workplace safe.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.