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Regulatory change in B.C. ramps up anxiety over late-night workers' safety

Doug De Patie and his wife Corrinne speak to reporters during press conference where they called on the provincial government to implement new safety measures for nightshift workers employed in the service industry, Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Feb. 3, 2006. Their son Grant De Patie was killed while trying to stop someone from stealing gas.

Richard Lam/The Canadian Press/Richard Lam/The Canadian Press

The father of a fuel-station attendant who was dragged to his death trying to prevent a $12 gas-and-dash is appalled by a regulatory change that he says puts late-night workers at risk.

Grant De Patie was 24 when he was killed while working alone in Maple Ridge in 2005. He was struck by the stolen vehicle he had tried to stop and dragged 7.5 kilometres.

In 2008, the provincial government implemented Grant's Law, which required prepayment for fuel at service stations throughout B.C. WorkSafeBC also introduced the Working Alone or in Isolation Regulation to protect late-night employees. The regulation required late-night retailers to do at least one of two things: have more than one person working between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., or erect a barrier to prevent physical contact between customers and employees.

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Last December, WorkSafeBC announced a third option because it said the first two were not practicable for all retailers. The third option – which took effect Sunday – features a series of controls, including a time-lock safe, video surveillance and emergency transmitters.

Doug De Patie, Grant's father, said in an interview he fears for the safety of those working alone.

"I'm appalled by the changes in the regulation. I think it's WorkSafeBC kowtowing to employers, those that are putting money before the safety of employees," he said.

Mr. De Patie said the measures that make up the third option, the emergency transmitters in particular, do not go far enough.

"The panic button is a joke. It basically goes to an answering service, then the answering service calls an employer, and the employer can simply be asleep and there's no one sent [until]after the fact to check on the worker," he said. If there are two people working, or there are barriers installed, he said, there is a level of safety. "It prevents the incident from happening before it happens."

WorkSafeBC denied in December that it was watering down the regulation and said protecting workers from acts of violence remains its priority.

Donna Freeman, a WorkSafeBC spokeswoman, reiterated that message Sunday.

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"The employer, if they choose that option, they have to comply with every single requirement on that and they have to have an audit conducted to ensure they are doing that," she said.

In addition to the safe, surveillance and transmitters, employers choosing the third option must ensure there is good visibility both into and out of the premises. They must also store cash and lottery tickets that aren't required to operate during late-night hours in the safe, and put up signs alerting the public about the time lock and the video camera.

Ms. Freeman said she did not know how many businesses would exclusively take up the third option. However, she said many late-night establishments have already limited access to the public.

She said many businesses simply weren't able to comply with the first two options.

"There were significant issues with the construction of barriers. When you start reconstructing an older premise, you have to bring everything up to current code. It ended up being a lot more complex and a lot more expensive than we had initially understood that option to be."

Ms. Freeman said WorkSafeBC will be conducting inspections of late-night retail establishments over the next three to four months to ensure they are complying with one of the three options. She said there will "never" be a change when it comes to prepaying for fuel, calling that measure "hugely successful."

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The B.C. Federation of Labour's Employee Action and Rights Network protested against the regulatory change outside a Vancouver convenience store Sunday. The network is calling on members of the public to push for the elimination of the third option.

Stephen Von Sychowski, the network's chair, said having more than one person on shift is a deterrent to crime. He showed no sympathy for businesses who said they can't meet that requirement.

"Honestly, if you can't run a business model that allows you to keep your workers safe, that's a problem itself," he said.

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