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Over the last several decades working in retail environments has become increasingly dangerous. Not only are retail workers more likely to be threatened with harm, but they are also more likely to be killed. Roughly one-third of all workplace deaths happen in a retail location. Gas station security is of particular interest right now for many fuel center owners and their employees.
Gas station attendants are truly at risk. Astoundingly, gas station cashiers face a higher rate of workplace violence than almost any other non-law enforcement profession. (This is according to 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, Workplace Violence, 1993-2009.)
The Special Challenges of Gas Station Security
In a 2010 paper—”Disparities in work-related homicide rates in selected retail industries in the United States, 2003–2008“—Cammie Chaumont Menéndez, Srinivas Konda, Scott Hendricks, and Harlan Amandus wrote:
The retail industry sector historically has experienced a disproportionately high homicide rate, with ‘cashiers’ experiencing disproportionately high relative risks. The most recent comprehensive assessment of occupational … injuries in the retail sector found fatalities continue to persist at disproportionately higher rates … among convenience stores and gasoline stations. … Work-related fatalities due to workplace violence [in these locales] … were disproportionately higher than the retail industry overall for every year examined.
Menéndez and her colleagues went on to cite a short list of “crime prevention factors,” specifically citing the use of “bullet-resistant shielding.” They noted that, by 2008, most new corporate gas stations were equipped with bullet resistant barriers. But they went on to point out “many small business owners may have minimal resources set aside for safety equipment and may not have many or most of these safety measures. Occupational fatality rates remain disproportionately high in these selected retail sectors.”
Gas Station Robberies More Likely to Involve Deadly Force
Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards has worked in business and retail physical security for decades. He points out that gas stations are inherently high-risk locations. “We know from research that most criminals are selecting targets based on ease of access and ease of getaway. That already puts gas stations in the crosshairs, because fuel centers are largely located with easy access to major roadways and freeways. If there are no obvious security measures to deter a robbery, then it’s just a matter of time.”
Recent data tends to support this. The most recent FBI statistics show a 2.1% increase in gas station robberies. And, although fuel centers only accounted for one out of every 50 robberies in 2017, one out of every eight retail-related violent deaths was at a gas station. (This is according to Downing & Downing, which tracks retail loss prevention, asset protection and IT security tends.)
Changing Attitudes in Gas Station Security
Corporate fuel center chains embraced bullet proof security early on. According to trade groups, this was largely a dollars-and-cents decision. Corporate gas station chains can spread costs out, and an armed robbery is very expensive.
On average, the FBI reports that thieves make off with an average of $970 from a gas station robbery. For the average fuel center, that’s about a week’s profits. But the cost of a robbery isn’t limited to just the dollars lost. Workers’ compensation, stress, business lost during the aftermath, and possible damage to their brand all add up.
In recent years, Jim and TSS have seen two shifts in gas station security. First, more independent fuel centers are installing bullet resistant barriers. “Corporate fuel centers have always found the money to beef up security where they need it. But now, and especially in the South, we’re seeing more independents. I think part of it is the improving business environment, but it’s also a matter of just looking at the numbers, and knowing how powerful of a deterrent a good, solid ballistic barrier is.”
The other shift is in how fuel centers are thinking about security. As Jim notes, “We’ve also seen the motivation shifting, across the board. I think that industrywide, decision-makers are much more aware of the risk to their workers—it’s more front-of-mind than it seemed to be in the past. Yes, they want to invest in their stores, they want to protect monetary assets, but there’s more focus on keeping their employees safe.”
Increasing Gas Station Security without Decreasing Revenue
Even in small independent and “family” fuel centers—where the safety of the person behind the counter has always been first and foremost—the bottom line is still the bottom line.
“People are always concerned about the impact adding a ballistic barrier will have on business. It might seem crazy when you think about what they get paid and the kind of risk they face. But even cashiers can have a love-hate reaction to the idea of adding a barrier. They worry that it’ll make it tougher to do business, that it’ll slow down transactions, that it’ll make customers uncomfortable. We really don’t see that happening in places where we’ve installed barrier systems. But I think that’s because TSS has put years into developing designs that stop bullets without getting in the way of business.”