Tips for Keeping Convenience Store Cashiers Safe from Robberies

Selling fuel, beverages, magazines, and groceries, gas stations with convenience stores are vital destinations to make quick purchases for millions on-the-go. They are often small, family-owned businesses that play a huge role in neighborhoods everywhere. In addition to offering local residents career opportunities, they also build community pride and lasting friendships. In 2021, there were over 98,000 gas stations with convenience stores nationwide, according to the US Census Bureau. The success of these stores relies heavily on the retail workers behind the counter—cashiers who serve customers, make sales, track inventory, mop floors, and do many other tasks that make operations run smoothly around-the-clock. In 2022, gas stations were the largest employer of cashiers and had the highest concentration of cashiers in all retail industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet as frontline money handlers, cashiers face several safety risks. The most frightening is becoming targets of armed robberies that often end in death. Between 2013 and 2022, 367 workers died at gas stations with convenience stores, with 265 killed by other people in intentional acts of violence, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Killings at gas stations represented 31 percent of deadly intentional violence in all retail industries, with 75 percent committed by robbers who shot their victims in most cases. Cashiers also face the risk of serious injuries from violence. Between 2011 and 2020, over 1,370 gas station convenience store workers suffered time loss injuries from intentional acts of violence, according to the Bureau. Nearly all of the incidents happened during customer interactions. Time after time, such tragedies leave victims’ families, friends, and coworkers in deep pain. For storeowners, the costs of an incident include but are not limited to lost productivity and merchandise, low morale and retention, property damage, legal expenses, and customers who are afraid to return. 

Two Cashiers Shot by Robbers

The Washington State Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (WA FACE) program at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries recently investigated the robbery homicides of two cashiers at separate gas station convenience stores. Their deaths stress the need for workplace violence programs and robbery response training to protect cashiers.

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In the first incident, a 30-year-old cashier was shot in a robbery while working alone in his aunt and uncle’s gas station. He began working there the previous year after coming to the United States to learn how to run his own business. The gas station was in a rural area by an interstate highway. The cashier was working with his uncle. In the afternoon, his uncle left to run some errands but planned to return to drive the cashier home. The cashier was now running the store alone, which he had done several times before when his uncle left to get supplies. He had access to the store’s safe where the cash till was placed at closing time. 

The cashier was restocking shelves when, around 8:45 p.m., two men wearing masks and gloves entered the front door. One had a long gun with an extended magazine, and the other had a bag and flex cuffs. The man with the gun aimed it at the cashier, who was walking toward the register. The cashier turned his back to the gunman and both began to struggle over the gun. The other man joined the struggle before the robbers fled in a getaway truck. A passerby saw the men fleeing and called 911. First responders found the cashier dead from a single shotgun wound to the chest. 

In the second incident, a 60-year-old cashier was shot at a gas station convenience store during an early morning robbery. He had worked at the store for 21 years and was greatly admired by many loyal customers. The 24-hour store was at a busy commercial intersection. He worked the day shift but always arrived two hours early before the store’s lone late night cashier’s shift ended at 7 a.m.  

At 5:40 a.m., when no customers were present, an armed robber entered through the front door. He walked past the counter and through a storage area door next to it. The cashier, who was at the counter, saw the robber through a window in the door. When the cashier opened the door, the robber turned toward him and fired twice from a .40 caliber handgun as the worker tried to flee. One bullet hit a wall, but the other hit the cashier. As the cashier fell to the floor, the robber ran off. The night shift cashier, who was in a cooler stocking shelves, called 911 as the shooting was underway. First responders declared the cashier dead at the scene. 

What Do These Tragedies Have in Common?

Both stores lacked effective security features to help stop robbers from easily entering and shooting the cashiers during late evening and early morning hours. Neither store had a workplace violence prevention or robbery response program. As for the cashiers, neither received adequate robbery response training that could have properly showed them how to avoid being harmed by the gunmen. 

Creating a safe and secure workplace for cashiers not only reduces their fear of suffering violent attacks, it also helps them excel at their jobs, and translates into high morale, peak customer service, and stable operations. But there is no single way to prepare a store for robbery prevention and response. The following practical tips can be used as a multi-pronged approach to improving store security and cashier safety.

1) Have a Violence Prevention Program

The first step to keeping cashiers safe is having a workplace violence prevention program. The program should demonstrate management’s leadership and commitment to protecting store workers during robberies. As no two stores are identical, policies and procedures are more effective when customized to meet the distinct needs of each store. Policies can be written as standard operating procedures (SOP), as step-by-step instructions in a standalone document, or reprinted as part of a worker handbook. Specific policies can explain how to lock entrances and storage areas; make sure lights, panic buttons, alarms, and surveillance systems work properly; limit advertisements on windows to maintain an unobstructed outside view; not engage robbers or resist their demands; call 911 and management; and make frequent cash deposits using drop safes to minimize cash kept in the register. 

The program can also provide and require the use of incident reporting forms to document information about robbers and getaway vehicles. Such forms can help staff identify and help police find suspects after a robbery or other violent incident. Management can also use the forms to track and compile information about suspicious activities. As there is always room for improvement, doing routine policy evaluations is a good way to identify gaps that may need attention. Considering the cultural diversity among gas station cashiers, copies of the program should be made available in languages workers best understand. Use progressive discipline if necessary to enforce the program. Employers can get started by reviewing OSHA’s recommendations for workplace violence prevention programs in late night retail establishments. 

2) Provide Robbery Response Training

Initial training should be part of every new hire orientation. Never assume a cashier will be able to respond in a safe manner to a robbery if they have not been trained. After that, refresher training should take place on a recurring basis at least once a year. Use a variety of training resources, such as handouts, fatality and injury narratives, videos, and webinars. The basics should cover where all exits, alarms, panic buttons, and emergency information are located. Cashiers should also be trained on how to look for signs that a robbery or violent attack is about to happen. This requires maintaining situational awareness, actively monitoring the worksite, and reporting suspicious people and activities to management or the police. Instruct cashiers to stay calm and not to verbally or physically resist or engage robbers. Providing certified first aid training is a low-cost way to protect workers, especially when emergency care is more than three to four minutes from the workplace.

Employers should demonstrate to cashiers how to act during a robbery. Hands-on training scenarios where workers take turns playing the roles of robber and cashier are a good way to apply and practice robbery responses. Never release a new cashier to begin their job unless their knowledge and skill proficiency has been assessed. Make sure to document training and keep records on file. Evaluate the training program regularly and find ways to enhance it. Update training whenever changes to work organization, processes, or equipment occur. Safety meetings provide an excellent opportunity for managers and workers to review training topics so knowledge is retained. Storeowners can get help designing a customized training program by contacting a professional safety and security training consultant in their area. 

3) Conduct a Worksite Safety and Security Analysis

Conducting a worksite safety and security analysis is the best way to identify and prevent conditions, operations, and situations that could encourage robbers. If possible, hire a certified retail security consultant to conduct the analysis as they have specialized knowledge and expertise to assist storeowners who aren’t able to do it themselves.

Stores will likely need to combine several security measures to keep cashiers safe. If possible, consider hiring armed guards and increasing staffing levels so no one works alone. Post signage on front entrances and counters that states workers cannot open the safe, registers have limited cash, and surveillance cameras are in use. Add surveillance cameras inside and outside of the building to eliminate blind spots where robbers may hide. Use doors sensors that detect and count people when they come in. Install convex security mirrors to help cashiers see behind shelves and displays. Improve sight lines outside the store by keeping trees and shrubs short. Keep the entire indoor and outdoor business area brightly lit. Require workers to use a buddy system when leaving a store after closing up during hours of darkness. Implement traffic controls that allow vehicles only one way in and out to gas pumps and parking spaces. Use walk-up bulletproof windows instead of allowing people into the store. Build partnerships with other storeowners and local crime prevention programs and learn about area crime patterns. Only employers will know their store and workers well enough to develop the best solutions.

An Ounce of Prevention Can Save a Cashier’s Life

Smart storeowners know that the road to business success starts with valuing workers and supporting them with resources to do their best. They also know that this means always making sure workplace safety comes first. This requires dedicated leadership and prioritizing investments in safety above all else. Clearly, taking proactive steps to avoid a violent robbery is more sensible than choosing to grapple with the emotional, social, and financial costs after one happens. 

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Paul Karolczyk

Paul Karolczyk is a fatality investigator with the WA FACE program. Since 2015, he has been a safety and health expert for NIOSH-funded programs at the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program within Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries. He contributes investigation-based articles to trade journals in retail, transportation, and agriculture industries. His reports are regularly profiled in professional safety publications, including the National Safety Council’s Safety + Health Magazine. He has a PhD from Louisiana State University.

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