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How can you stamp out violence in your pharmacy?


Pharmacies have increasingly become the target of potential violence over the past few decades. The presence of drugs has always put them at risk of robbery, but early and late hours have made them more vulnerable to holdups. The array of products can lure shoplifters, especially when staffing is minimal. There’s also more chance of customers becoming irate when the on-demand service that has become expected can’t be provided for some reason.

Every pharmacy – whether a small independent or large chain outlet – should have a violence-in-the-workplace policy to safeguard employees. The policy should clearly outline how to prevent violence in the first place; diffuse situations before they escalate; and outline what to do if violence or a serious threat occurs.

Murphy’s Pharmacies, which has several locations Prince Edward Island, overhauled its policy and procedures to ensure they are clear, effective, and actually put to use. Some tips based on our experience include:

Do your homework. Find out about the occupational health and safety regulations for violence in the workplace in your province. Then search online for good examples of workplace policies.

Always incorporate safety. If you are building or renovating a space, always factor employee safety in your design. Have two exit doors, for example, for every consulting room or dispensary area. Provide adequate light at back doors and in parking areas.

Define violence.  Make clear what you will not tolerate as language or behaviour, including threats. Post this information where everyone can see it.

Involve employees. Ask them to share any concerns as well as suggestions for improving safety.

Evaluate risks. Based on feedback, assess the specific risks to pharmacists, technicians, cashiers, sales staff and delivery people at your particular location. Take measures to minimize each risk. For example, we instruct our employees never to leave alone at closing times.

Keep checklists. Have management verify all security measures on a regular basis, such as whether the surveillance equipment is working properly, and outdoor lighting is switched on promptly at dusk.

Emphasize prevention. Minimize shoplifting by providing attentive customer service. If a customer becomes irate for some reason, employees should know how to take that person aside to calmly attempt to resolve the situation. If that fails, staff should know to call a manager.

Detail procedures. We provide our employees with information to help them recognize a potentially violent person, along with steps to: 1) avoid an incident in the first place; 2) deal with violence or a threat of violence if it occurs; and 3) report all situations to management (and to the police in very serious cases) so that steps can be taken to avoid the incident from recurring.

Keep everyone informed. All our employees are required to sign a document that says they have read and understood our policy and procedures. We go over all of this as part of our orientation for new employees. We also plan to include role-playing in our monthly training sessions on customer service. This is not something you can do once and forget about. The safety of patients, customers and employees must be kept top of mind.

Create reference materials. We put together a quick-action guide with point-form information on all of our safety procedures.  It outlines step by step what to do in every conceivable situation. The guide is kept at our counters and cashes for employees to refresh their memories when the pharmacy is quiet, and to use as a fast reference if a situation appears to be arising. The guides also help supervisors with training.

Derek Tweel is director of operations for Murphy’s Pharmacies in PEI.








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