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Crime prevention tips could save workers' lives

July 12, 1998

photo: MIKE CRUPI / staff photographer

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OSHA Crime PreventionBy LISA GRAYBEAL / Staff Writer

After a handgun was thrust into Gloria Murray's face last December during an armed robbery at the store she manages, some business practices were changed.

Little cash is kept on the premises at Mouse's Deli and Grocery at George and Winter streets in Hagerstown, money bags are never left out in the open, and employees watch each customer who walks through the door, Murray said.

"Really I don't know what more you can do other than carry a gun," she said.

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What Murray has done to protect herself and other employees from future robberies is a start, according to officials at the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA.

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Calling for a halt to killings of workers in retail establishments, OSHA has released recommendations intended to help people like Murray who are increasingly at risk as victims of violence in their workplaces.

"Our recommendations are not a new standard or regulation nor a substitute for any current standards. They are tools that we hope will raise the awareness of employers and provide them with the information they need to help protect their employees," said OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress.

On Dec. 19 at about 10:30 a.m., Murray reluctantly handed over $150 in cash to a masked man who held a handgun about 2 feet from her face and demanded money.

"I kept thinking, is it real, or is it fake? But it was too close and too sudden to take the chance," Murray said.

Murray, who was not physically harmed, said the incident has left her leery about running the small corner store.

Her caution is well-founded.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for 1996, homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace, and the second leading cause of death for all American workers.

There were 912 workplace homicides across the country in 1996, accounting for 15 percent of the total of 6,112 fatal work injuries in the United States.

Although homicides have decreased nationally and in workplaces overall, homicides in the retail industry increased, accounting for 48 percent of the workplace homicides in 1996, the statistics said.

In Maryland, 43 of 588 homicides came during robberies in 1996, according to the Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Report.

OSHA's research shows that employees are at greater risk of homicide or assault if they are involved in the exchange of money, have routine contact with the public, work alone or in small numbers, work late or very early hours and work in high-crime areas.

Statistics show those who work at night in convenience stores, liquor stores and gasoline stations are at greatest risk.

Familiar with the risks, employees at Potomac Wine & Spirits on Potomac Avenue know not to keep a lot of cash at the store and use only small bills late at night, said Jim Gossard, manager.

The store also has the latest in cameras and surveillance monitors, he said.

But those precautions didn't stop a man from walking into the store at 9:30 p.m. on March 5 and holding it up.

The man put a miniature liquor bottle on the counter. When the clerk opened the cash register to make the sale, the robber demanded money and put his hand in his right jacket pocket, indicating he had a weapon.

The clerk turned over about $1,250 and the robber fled the store. Police later arrested the man and recovered $750 of the money taken in the robbery.

"We're pretty well set up. But if a guy comes in here with a gun, what can you do? There's hardly anything you can do to prevent being robbed," Gossard said.

Taking precautions




First, all violent and threatening incidents should be taken seriously and management should develop a plan for workplace security, including working with police and other public safety agencies to improve security, Jeffress said.

Improve visibility by providing adequate lighting, installing mirrors and keeping signs and shelves low, the recommendations say.

Other OSHA recommendations include:




HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Install video surveillance cameras, alarms, drop safes and physical barriers such as bullet-resistant enclosures.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Limit areas to which customers have access by closing portions of a store and locking doors not in use.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Increase staff levels during high-risk periods.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Establish emergency communications procedures, and implement standard operating procedures for both management and employees to follow in the aftermath of a violent incident.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Train employees to make them aware of potential security hazards and procedures for protecting themselves.

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