Monday, January 31, 2005
New Convenience Store Safety Rules Affect Night Shifts
By Charlotte Balcomb Lane
Journal Staff Writer
The deadline has arrived for all convenience stores in New Mexico to comply with strict, new state safety regulations.
By Tuesday, convenience store operators must:
Have two employees on staff between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. or have a bullet-resistant enclosure around the cash register if the store is open during those hours;
Provide a panic button and quarterly safety training for all employees;
Install a surveillance system capable of continuous recording during store hours;
Keep maintenance records on all surveillance cameras; and
Keep no more than $50 in cash in the registers from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and "small amounts" of cash at other times.
Stores found in violation of the rules will be subject to citations from the state Occupational Health and Saftey Bureau.
Ruben Baca, executive director of the New Mexico Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents 500 of the 800 convenience stores in the state, said most operators were already providing the safety measures mandated by the state.
"We were 90 percent there already," he said last week.
In December, the measures were approved by the state Environmental Improvement Board and were scheduled to go into effect in 60 days.
The regulations, designed to reduce the incidence of violent crime in convenience stores, were hailed by victim advocates as a breakthrough in safety for minimum-wage employees.
Even as the regulations go into effect, there is speculation that legislation might be introduced during the current 60-day legislative session to soften the rules.
The Petroleum Marketers Association has long protested the safety regulations and maintains such policy changes would be appropriate through the state Legislature.
State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said he is considering sponsoring legislation about convenience store safety.
"I don't have any problem with the (new) regulations. I have a problem with the executive branch moving ahead and essentially passing laws," Smith said during a telephone interview last week.
Smith declined to give a timetable for any legislation but said a bill could include a tax credit for convenience store operators who have invested in safety measures, including bullet-resistant enclosures or upgraded surveillance systems.
Baca said the association membership is "weighing all the options," including potential legislation, but has not asked lawmakers for anything yet.
The association is going forward with its lawsuit before the New Mexico Court of Appeals to determine whether the Environmental Improvement Board had the authority to make such regulations.
No date has been set for a hearing before the Court of Appeals.
Baca said the two regulations causing the biggest headaches for store operators are providing safety training and late-night staffing.
Regulations for safety training include "behavioral strategies to defuse tense situations and reduce the likelihood of violence."
Baca said insurance companies have stepped in to coach convenience store operators on how to implement the complex training.
Individual stores must decide whether to close at 11 p.m., hire two employees for the overnight shift, or install a bullet-resistant enclosure. Baca said he doesn't know how many stores will opt to close earlier.
To help store operators comply with the new regulations, the New Mexico Environment Department has been conducting seminars around the state. The state is also offering on-site consultation with an Occupational Health & Safety Bureau specialist to determine what steps individual stores need to take to come into compliance with the regulations.