The family of Grant De Patie, a gas station attendant killed in 2005 following a gas-and-dash robbery, is outraged that WorkSafe BC regulations meant to prevent similar deaths are being watered down.
Rules meant to protect people working at night in British Columbia have been changed to allow gas station and convenience store clerks to work alone, without barriers.
The law made British Columbia the first province in Canada to make drivers pay before they pump gas, and required employers to either have two workers or barriers for those who work retail graveyard shifts.
WorkSafeBC announced amendments to Grant’s Law on Thursday, finding it wasn’t practical or feasible, for retailers to hire additional workers or erect protective barriers, like pay-thru windows.
“These changes represent the interests of employers, not workers. It is putting some of the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers right back in the line of fire,” says Doug De Patie, Grant’s father.
Doug and his wife Corrine now live in the Shuswap, where they could be closer to family and escape some of the painful memories that lingered in Maple Ridge.
“We lobbied for years to get these changes, to protect others from what happened to Grant. Now we feel like that’s all been wiped away. We’re back at Square One.”
The changes mean convenience stores can follow other safety procedures, including time-lock safes that can’t be opened during late night hours, video surveillance, as well as keeping limited amounts of cash and lottery tickets at hand. In addition, employers will be required to do regular security audits to confirm that all the controls have been implemented.
“Our priority continues to be protecting late night retail workers from acts of violence,” said Roberta Ellis, senior vice-president of corporate affairs for WorkSafeBC, in a press release announcing the amendment.
The B.C. Federation of Labour also criticized the changes.
“It is extremely disappointing to see WorkSafeBC sacrifice evidence-based safety regulations after a lobby based only on the profit motive of late-night employers,” said president Jim Sinclair.
But the Western Convenience Store Association, which lobbied for the change, believes money can now be saved and, in turn, spent on better security.
“It sets a standard for late-night retailers and provides them with an opportunity for them to have someone do a security audit at their store to ensure it has a good, safe environment for their customers and employees to enjoy,” said association chair Len McGeouch.
McGeouch noted that experts have found that having more than one person on staff doesn’t stop criminals from committing robbery.
“If there is a predisposition to committing a criminal act, having one, two or three people won’t stop a person from doing it,” he added.
But De Patie insists most robberies are crimes of opportunity – “with locked doors and barriers especially, you are removing that opportunity. You are preventing crime before it happens.”
He says employers are more concerned about their bottom line than the safety of workers.
“To me, this shows a reckless disregard for their employees and now WorkSafe BC is giving them a door to hide behind,” says Doug.