Indiana Working Group Meets on Convenience Store Safety

The Labor commissioner, IOSHA deputy commissioner, and INSafe director are members of the panel working to "facilitate the adoption and use of industry best practices" for preventing violence inside 24-hour convenience stores.

The Convenience Store Working Group created by Indiana Labor Commissioner Lori Torres held its initial planning meeting Jan. 11 as it got to work on the issue of workplace violence in 24-hour convenience stores. The Oct. 21, 2011, shooting of Marcella Birnell, a clerk who was working alone at a Village Pantry store, was one of two recent incidents sparking the group's formation; she was critically injured. The other incident was the fatal shooting of Rebecca Hough, a clerk working alone at another Village Pantry store in November 2009, according to newspaper reports in Indianapolis.

"Hough's store had been robbed 32 times since 2000, and Birnell's had been robbed eight times since 2008. Birnell was the clerk on duty for six of those robberies," John Tuohy reported Dec. 12, 2011, in the Indianapolis Star.

The working group's first meeting was not open to the public, although subsequent meetings may be, according to a news release posted on the Indiana DOL website. The group's participating members are Commissioner Torres herself and Jeffry Carter, deputy commissioner of Labor for Indiana OSHA; Michelle Ellison, director of INSafe, an Indiana DOL division that offers on-site consultation and works with employers and others to ensure workplace health and safety; Scott Imus, executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association; Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council; Joe Lackey, president of the Indiana Grocery & Convenience Store Association, Inc.; and Sgt. Rod Russell of the Indiana State Police.

The news release says the mission of the working group is to "facilitate the adoption and use of industry best practices for promoting worker safety and work place violence prevention in 24 hour convenience stores."

An Indiana DOL spokesman, Bob Dittmer, said Torres met with State Rep. Ed DeLaney about this issue after relatives of Birnell who live in his district brought their concerns about store safety to him. Torres and DeLaney agreed encouraging the industry to come up with its own effective solutions was the right approach, so the commissioner invited the association chiefs to participate, he said. "It is certainly in Commissioner Torres' mind to get them to do some things first," said Dittmer. "I think she's open-minded enough to see if this forum will prod them to some activity."

About 130 Village Pantry stores are located in Indiana, according to the list available at parent company VPS Convenience Store Group's website.

A summary report of the meeting was posted during the afternoon of Jan. 11.

Greg Andrews of The Indiana Business Journal reported Dec. 7, 2011, that VPS agreed to pay a $7,000 fine to settle an enforcement case from Indiana OSHA after Hough's death. The agency concluded VPS failed to maintain reasonably safe working conditions at that store. As part of the settlement, all of the company's Indiana stores will be under state scrutiny until June 2014, he reported.

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