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Armed robbery 'just another day at the office' for liquor-store employees.

Armed robbery 'just another day at the office' for liquor-store employees

A Pennsylvania court has decided that armed robberies are such a normal part of working in a liquor store that shopkeepers cannot claim for the mental harm of being involved in a hold-up.

The case, reported in volume 59 issue 2 of Risk Management by Thomas A. Robinson was brought by a liquor-store employee who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after an armed robbery at his workplace.

In order to recover compensation for 'psychic injury' in Pennsylvania, the worker must prove that he was exposed to abnormal working conditions and that his psychological problems 'are not a subjective reaction to normal working conditions'.

The court decided that, since 99 similar robberies had occurred in the employer's retail stores since 2002, and four had taken place close by within weeks of the robbery involving the claimant, robberies are a normal condition of liquor-store employment.

The case is one of Thomas A. Robinson's 10 strangest workplace injuries of 2011. The others include:

a home-based worker who claimed for the injuries she sustained after tripping over her small dog as she walked from home to her near-by garage to retrieve work-related supplies; a worker who alleged that she sustained an injury arising from exposure to a 'chemical cloud' while driving in the course of her employment; and a paving worker who claimed for losing an eye after he struck a bowling ball with a sledgehammer.

The author concedes that, despite the unusual nature of these claims, we must respect the fact that they affect real lives and real families.

Take the case of trainee hairdressers in the Netherlands. Around 40% of them give up in their first year of training because of skin problems. With each decision dies the hope of a lifelong career in a satisfying, if not particularly remunerative, line of work.

In volume 42 issue 3 of The RoSPA Occupational Safety & Health Journal, Christopher Packham examines the European Union Safehair project to reduce occupational skin disease among hairdressers, which is estimated to cost some €5 billion across Europe.

The author reveals that the project's first phase, already completed, includes an agreement between employers and trade unions on ways of reducing health risks in hairdressing. Among the recommendations are more research by the cosmetics industry to reduce the risks of their products and better training for hairdressers on the safe use of these products.

Hairdressing salons tend to be small businesses, which typically pay less attention to health and safety issues than large corporations. Ian Laird et al. In International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Volume 4 No. 2, from 2011, Ian Laird et al. identify the challenges that small-business owners and employees face in managing hazardous substances.

The authors point out that owner-managers' values tend to determine the approach of small firms to health and safety management. Many owners consider health and safety to be the employees' responsibility and often are not aware of what the law requires. In general, small-businesses owners take a reactive and ad hoc approach to health and safety, as problems are usually only resolved when they become apparent.

Other characteristics of small businesses include: a dependency on suppliers for information; low levels of literacy among workers; a belief that the chemicals they work with are not dangerous; better perception of acute rather than long-term health effects; and controls decided by custom and practice rather than by risk assessment.

Small-business owners describe numerous barriers to better health and safety, including limited resources, lack of in-house expertise and production pressures.

The authors conclude that the most successful methods of improving health and safety in small firms appear to be action-orientated and low-cost. They combine health and safety with other management goals, and are based on trust and dialogue.