Occupational Hazards: Convenience Store Clerks

Clerks comicbook

When thinking of jobs with immense occupational hazards, we usually conjure up images of professionals fighting forest fires, brave men working with lions and tigers and heroic doctors traveling to remote parts of the world working with ill patients who may be contagious, or doing any job that could kill you. We never think of one particular job: convenience store clerk. 

See Also: The World’s Most Dangerous Jobs

The job of a convenience store clerk may be boring, tedious and redundant, but there are numerous health and safety risks that come with this low-paying job. Everything from criminal matters to health issues, convenience store clerks aren’t like the motion picture "Clerks."  Indeed, it isn’t all reading magazines, gabbing away and waiting for the day to come to an end. What’s the reality of a convenience store clerk? 

Store workers are in charge of handling cash while selling merchandise (liquor, lottery tickets and food). Oftentimes, a convenience store clerk will work behind bulletproof glass, even during daylight hours. For a great number of clerks, however, it’s working the graveyard shift that can be really troublesome, which happens to be at the same time that lot of criminal activities take place. 

The demographics of these employees are usually students, young people, long-term unemployed, experienced clerks and immigrants. In recent years, however, the immense number of applicants has waned because of deplorable working conditions: long hours standing, night shift and minimal pay. 

In order to circumvent this trend, recruiters and convenience store owners look to more senior clerks that are over the age of 55. In fact, in the Great White North, about 10 percent of convenience store clerks are at least 55 years of age. 

Crime: Is It Still a Problem? 

Convenience store crime has become so severe and dire in some cities in the United States that police departments have established special task forces to combat culprits and robberies. During the 1970s, convenience store crime was a rampant problem. This prompted the media and public officials to scrutinize the safety of such stores. When more and more convenience stores were established, the number of crimes committed also rose. It was a difficult situation for unskilled, uneducated workers looking to earn a paycheck from manning the station. 

Studies have found that potential robbers consider the ease of escape as an important consideration, while the motive is, surprisingly, the exhilaration and thrill of committing such a crime. Money, of course, was still a major influence. Whatever the case, it could still be a tremendous heartache and constant tension for convenience store clerks. Shoplifting is also a considerable but less problematic crime for clerks because these individuals are less likely to be violent. Recent statistics suggest more than half of adults steal from stores, while 90 percent of juveniles admit to knowing someone who has had shoplifted. They, too, do this because of the excitement.

After years of research, security installations and proper training of clerks, is crime still a huge problem for convenience store clerks? Yes. And the newest issue is gasoline theft, which is costing the industry nearly $100 million per year, down from $300 million a decade ago. 

Earlier this year, there was one clerk in Canada who died after chasing down a motorist who stole gasoline. In 2012, another clerk died from the same instance. When he passed away, members of provincial parliament called for legislation that would require customers to pay ahead of time, which drew the ire of many parties involved. Such a move could perhaps protect the clerks, but at the same time it could reduce business and then lead to a clerk losing his or her job. 

With law enforcement authorities and industry leaders urging the public not to get involved, it can be a very dangerous situation for clerks as they often have to deal with these situations all by themselves. What a lonely job it must be.

Undetected Health Concerns 

Crime is usually the No. 1 threat we think of when it comes to convenience store clerks. However, there are other matters that should concern us in this field of work: health. Being a convenience store clerk is a very lonely occupation. You’re sitting behind a counter for eight hours, sometimes 10 hours in the middle of the night. Your only interaction is with rude customers and potential criminals. Working alone can be the biggest drawback for any store clerk. On the topic of whether or not working alone is hazardous, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety writes: 

"While it is not always hazardous to work alone, it can be when other circumstances are present. Whether a situation is a high or low risk will depend on the location, type of work, interaction with the public, or the consequences of an emergency, accident, injury, etc. This wide variety of circumstances makes it important to assess each situation individually." 

Since a lot of store clerks work the evening shift, they can be diagnosed with depression and insomnia. In the U.S., approximately 15 million Americans work the night shift. This is a terrible experience for those workers because it can be very hard to fall asleep during the day - lawn mowers, phone calls, sunlight and the list of what could hinder one’s sleep goes on. 

According to health experts, when you work the night shift, you’re not only losing quality sleep, you’re also fighting against your body’s natural sleep patterns. Most of us have gotten used to working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then sleeping from 10 p.m. to six p.m. Imagine doing the opposite. 

David Ballard, the director of the Center for Organizational Excellence and Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program at the American Psychological Association, believes there is a lot more to it than just sleep that can affect night shift workers like convenience store clerks. In an interview with Psychology Today Ballard said:

"When you work at night, you’re cut off from friends and family, you have little social support, your diet may not be as healthy. When day shift workers get home, we do things that relax us, like go out to eat or grab a drink with a friend. But when you’re working the night shift, you lose that. You’re facing additional stress, but you have fewer ways to cope with it." 

Sleep debt is something all too common for a convenience store clerk, and it can oftentimes lead to life-death situations. Think about: a convenience store clerk is highly trained (in recent years) to detect shoplifters or potential robbers. When an employee has little sleep, which causes slow reaction times, indifference and a paucity of strength, then this could lead to something serious. 

In an economy where the labor market it is in shambles and the supply of jobs is limited, some people have no other choice but to apply for jobs and accept employment opportunities when you have to work from midnight to 8 a.m. There are two considerations for taking night shift work: a lack of childcare and low incomes. 

On the bright side, however, working alone and working in a quiet environment can help many people solve internal problems, catch up on reading and ease back stress. 

A convenience store clerk comes with a wide variety of negative factors. When you work during the day, you have to come to grips with standing a long time and looking out for shoplifters. When you’re working at night, you have to always be concerned over robberies. It’s a lose-lose situation for them, but what other choice do they have in today’s economic landscape?