The low-cost cash pickup service used by scores of Suncor gas stations and fast-food franchisees of Tim Hortons, Wendy's or Burger King isn't safe, a tribunal has ruled.
Using a regular van and just one driver, the Express Deposit service that the security firm G4S unveiled six years ago tapped into a new market of Canadian small businesses that couldn't afford to have regular two- or three-guard armoured trucks transport their receipts.
However, a federal tribunal has found that the service is potentially so dangerous for its solo drivers that the firm has been ordered to modify vehicles and procedures.
The threat of robbery is such that "it does not constitute a normal condition of employment," the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada said in its ruling issued in April.
For security reasons, the 31-page decision is extensively blacked-out so that details of the safety shortcomings of the service will not be made public. But general concerns being cited included guards having to work alone, carrying cash alone in a mall with people around them and the design of the vehicle they drive.
"The risk of the potential hazard of robbery or attempted robbery is increased beyond acceptable limits and I find a reasonable expectation exists that exposure to such circumstances would cause injury," Appeals Officer Michael McDermott wrote in the ruling.
According to the company's magazine, Express Deposit uses "a non-armoured vehicle fitted with a bolted drop safe and is crewed by a single armed guard/driver."
The vehicles, which can be minivans or SUVs, carry the company logo and the driver wears the company uniform and a sidearm.
"This is where the company's direction is going, to the one-man service," said Tom Fraser, vice-president of Teamsters Canada Local 419, which represents cash pickup guards.
The case started after two guards in Mississauga refused to work alone in 2009. They took their complaints to the tribunal and testified that "the true reasons behind G4S's decision to have a single employee … are purely financial in nature."
They noted that Express Deposit was introduced just after Ottawa passed Bill C-45 in 2004, legislation that increased the liability of managers who fail to deal with employee safety - meaning that bosses could be charged if their staff get hurt while taking company receipts to the bank.
"For as little as $18 per pick up, you can protect your greatest assets and ensure Bill C-45 compliance," G4S says in one of its ads in retailing magazines.
Express Deposit is "big business" and "a runaway success," according to G4S's customers' magazine, which explains in a 2008 article that the service is a low-cost alternative for small businesses and fast-food franchisees that are too small for traditional armoured cars.
"The largely untapped market is estimated to be worth $37-million," the article said.
G4S had argued before the health and safety tribunal that professional robbers wouldn't find "the Express Deposit model to be worth their effort."
In his ruling, Mr. McDermott said that the risk of a professional hit still existed, not to mention the threat from "less ambitious criminals, addicted persons or other spur-of-the-moment robbers."
One of the safety shortcomings, which the redacted ruling won't reveal, was apparently so obvious that a guard testified that customers in a restaurant remarked on it.
The ruling also talks about the danger of agents having their backs exposed, and that the agents have to do some tasks "out of sight of the vehicle and unaware of what might be happening."
In a directive appended to the ruling, Mr. McDermott ordered the company to address three shortcomings dealing with Express Deposit's vehicle and procedures.
"As long as the type of vehicle remains in service and is used to fulfill Express Deposit functions, the potential hazard that I have identified would be present," Mr. McDermott wrote.
The G4S press office didn't reply to a request for comment.