Petrol station workers ‘soft targets’ in violent crime surge. Petrol stations are “dangerous” and vulnerable to more violent crime like banks, sparking a new safety campaign amid calls for better security and planning rules.x

Ahead of a major retail crime summit this week, a new study reveals at least 4000 South Australian retail staff are employed at more than 600 “high risk” and “soft target” outlets are facing an increasing crime threat.

The state’s biggest union on Sunday will unveil a new safety campaign for workers, who are exposed to a “hotbed” of violent crime including armed hold-ups, robberies and assaults.

One worker told how violence and abuse was “so commonplace they were ‘on the phone to the police almost every night’”, an alarming SDA survey revealed.

The powerful union, which represents retail staff, is calling for an overhaul to planning and workplace laws as there are no mandatory or uniform rules for the industry.

The state government will consider any reforms – including how service stations are designed and approved – but industry leaders say owners have spent millions of dollars boosting safety.

The SDA survey revealed almost all petrol workers had witnessed and experienced physical or verbal abuse – and more than one in 10 have been victims of armed robberies.

SDA state secretary, Josh Peak, called for urgent action to fix “alarming” failures laid bare in a union-commissioned study into the petrol stations, most of which are open around-the-clock.

“All petrol station workers deserve a safe workplace,” said Mr Peak, who has written to Premier Peter Malinauskas, who is a former SDA leader, Attorney-General Kyam Maher, Planning Minister Nick Champion and Police Minister Dan Cregan.

“Incidents of theft and abuse are increasing in petrol stations and more must be done to keep workers safe.

“No petrol station worker should have to go to work and worry if they’re going to come home safely.”

He said stronger security measures included mandatory safety screens, dual night staff and “nighttime windows”, secondary exits for workers, secured cash along with CCTV or surveillance.

The McKell Institute study, titled “Fuel on Fire: fixing policy gaps driving petrol station robberies in SA”, finds that as fuel shops expanded “so too has a wave of crime targeting these businesses”.

Its 33 page report, which includes interviews with crime victims, concludes stations are unsafe and workers highly exposed to criminal activity.

Petrol retail is a “high-risk” job amid rising armed holdups, thefts and assaults, which “clearly pose significant” risks of physical and mental harm.

Shops are a “soft target” for robberies because of large cash volumes and high value, but unprotected, stock such as cigarettes or painkillers, the research warned.

Researchers also criticised building designs failures that help opportunistic, or “stop and rob” thieves, who typically raid shops at night.

The report, which will be discussed at a government retail crime “roundtable” on Wednesday, warns solutions were not just for police.

Authors urge “target hardening” to mitigate violence and harassment – such as banning walk-in customers after 10pm – while SafeWork SA should establish a petrol station code of practice.

Workplace laws should be overhauled to include defining armed robberies a “dangerous incident”, meaning bosses would be legally obligated to notify SafeWork SA.

“Service stations are inherently vulnerable to robbery,” the report states.

“They are situated close to major arterials, allowing thieves to flee quickly; they are often laden with cash; they stock valuable commodities such as cigarettes or painkillers and are … poorly protected from violent crime.

“In terms of their vulnerability to robbery, service stations are the new banks.” While the report doesn’t name specific companies, major SA firm OTR has spearheaded the popularity in 24/7 petrol stations along with Coles Express, Woolworths and X Convenience.

The $4.8bn Viva Energy in March successfully closed its $1.215bn takeover of OTR, which the Shahin family founded in Woodville, in Adelaide’s west in 1984.

OTR stores make an average $3.9m of “non-fuel” sales a year, Viva told the stock exchange when announcing its successful takeover.

The Advertiser last year reported how brazen fuel bandits were escaping punishment after stealing petrol despite number plates being reported.

Official data released under Freedom of Information laws revealed at least 32,200 “fuel drive-offs” statewide in the past four years – or more than 20 a day.

Figures also showed fewer than 5 per cent – 1467 – of offenders were charged despite CCTV and licence recognition technology being available.

Motor Trade Association SA/NT chief executive officer Darrell Jacobs, whose organisation represents petrol operators, said his industry was addressing safety.

“These include measures such as secondary exits, safety screens, night windows, lighting, high resolution CCTV, duress systems and safe rooms.

SA’S BOwSER BANdITS Source: SA Police 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023! Total reports* 8620 5995 6706 7091 3788 Immediate calls through police 5048 2276 1959 2120 932 hotline

Number of 4173 5629 3280 121 offenders charged.

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