Minor inconvenience to motorists well worth the safety boost for gas-station workers
By Todd Humber
Last weekend, my wife and I took a trip down to Windsor, Ont., to visit family and friends. On Saturday, we zipped across the border to Detroit to take in some of the sights.
Detroit has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, including its notoriously high crime rate, declining population and impending bankruptcy. But despite the doom and gloom surrounding the Motor City, it still has a lot going for it — and I’m not just saying that because I was born and raised in its shadow.
We spent part of the day wandering the halls of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is an absolute gem whose collection is second to none, and checking out the Eastern Market, a historic open-air market surrounded by great independent shops and restaurants.
I also stopped to get gas, and that’s when I really knew I was in a foreign land — and not just because the price was lower. Anyone who has ever filled up stateside knows the deal — you have to pay before you pump, no exceptions.
My Canadian credit card wouldn’t work at the pump, so I trudged inside to do a pre-authorization at the till. It was stunning to see the inside of the gas station — it looked like a scaled-down version of Fort Knox. The cashiers were behind bulletproof glass, passing receipts and change through a slot.
The Fort Knox side of things felt like overkill. But the pay-before-you-pump policy is an enlightened one.
We’ve talked about gas stations on numerous occasions over the years in Canadian HR Reporter and Canadian Occupational Safety magazine — almost always for the wrong reasons.
I never begrudge having to pay before I pump in the U.S., because it invariably makes me think of Grant De Patie, a 24-year-old gas station worker in Maple Ridge, B.C., who was killed trying to stop a teenager from driving off with $12.30 worth of gas.
It’s a horrifying story, as De Patie was dragged seven kilometers by the vehicle to his death for what amounts to pocket change.
But De Patie’s death wasn’t for nothing. In the wake of his murder, British Columbia changed its laws, making it mandatory for customers to prepay for gas. It’s impossible to put an exact number on it, but there are workers in B.C. who are alive today — or who weren’t seriously injured — thanks to the legislation.
Unfortunately, the rest of Canada has been too slow to catch up with B.C. and pass legislation that would protect the lives of gas station workers.
Officially, employers can’t deduct stolen gas or merchandise from an employee’s paycheque — it goes against employment standards legislation across the country. Many employers also have a policy in place that explicitly forbids staff from getting involved in thefts.
But that message isn’t getting through or, worse, is being ignored at the local level by employers who are tired of being ripped off. Plus, there’s an instinct to stop wrongdoing at your workplace that can be difficult to turn off, regardless of what a policy from head office says.
Workers have been injured and killed since De Patie. One example: In 2012, Jayesh Prajapati was struck and killed by an SUV in Toronto after it fled a gas station with $112 worth of fuel.
Besides the safety concerns, there are the financial issues facing gas station owners. Jim Murphy, who owns a Canadian Tire gas bar in St. John’s, N.L., told the CBC his location alone loses as much as $5,000 annually to gas-and-dash robberies.
“It’s a little bit of a different change, but it’s not any difficulty to anybody,” Murphy said. “No cost involved to the government, and in fact there should be some cost savings because I won’t have to call the police anymore to report our thefts.”
I don’t want to see Detroit-style Fort Knox conditions for gas station workers. It’s just plain creepy.
But pay before you pump laws should have been enacted across Canada a long time ago. It’s a minor inconvenience to motorists, but it will make a world of difference to worker safety so there will be no more De Paties or Prajapatis putting their lives on the line for nothing.
Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.hrreporter.com for more information.