The Cynical Pharmacist: “Is pharmacy safety possible?”


With "Close the pharmacy," The Cynical Pharmacist was just warming up. Here's the beef.

Whenever there is an armed robbery of a pharmacy, the question arises as to whether pharmacists should be allowed to carry weapons at work. My blog received the following question: "How do you feel about pharmacists being armed? I am a concealed weapons permit holder and feel we should all be allowed to carry at work if we do not have security available. What are your thoughts?"

Top 20 states for pharmacy robberies

I agree. I've been robbed at gunpoint in my pharmacy. I always think about that before I discuss this topic. I know too many other situations that did not turn out as well as mine.

Most corporations have anti-carry laws in place. They do not want us to be armed. Fine. Then close the pharmacy. Pharmacies are too open and accessible. We have security alarms and locks on our doors. Why? Is it to protect the inventory? The staff? Because the state board requires them?

I wrote a post I titled "Close the Pharmacy." It was pretty awesome. One of my earlier bosses might have read it - and I think may have misinterpreted it.

The LL and I

One day long ago, we received a visit from Loyal Leader, who noticed something: Our door was ajar. Since we are constantly forced (um, encouraged) to show people where items are on the shelves, we are constantly leaving the pharmacy. This results in one person being taken away from his or her duties to help the patient and another to help the wandering soul upon his/her return to the pharmacy. We may occasionally leave the door slightly (read "wide") open.

So Loyal Leader got a twisted kilt about this.

And I laughed.

Seriously. I laughed during the following conversation about that door:

LL: Do you always keep your door open? CP: (Slowly shaking head side to side) No. LL: (After witnessing the door left open for the third time) Really? CP: Not all the time. LL: It's a safety issue to have it open. CP: (laughs) Oh. You're serious? LL: Yes. (Shuts door...again.} CP: Okay. We will keep it closed while you are here if it makes you feel safer. LL: That's not what I meant! CP: It isn't? LL: No. The Prevention of Loss Organization says it must remain closed and locked during all business hours. CP: (whispering) But how are we supposed to go in and out? LL: You open it. CP: Kind of throws a wrench into your PLO order of "closed and locked," huh? LL: You know what I mean. CP: I most certainly do not. Perhaps you should read The Cynical Pharmacist’s post "Close the Pharmacy." LL: Why? CP: It is quite insightful. Shall I point out the obvious flaw in your PLO's logic? LL: Please. CP: Our door is 36” wide. Very solid. Good craftsmanship. Sturdy. Definitely will keep robbers and random passersby from taking a self-guided tour of the facilities. LL: That's the idea. CP: I have a big “but”... LL: What? CP: BUT! As in capital letters. BEE-YOU-TEE! The PLO does not concern itself with the greater safety issue present in my pharmacy. LL: What's that? CP: The 20 linear FEET of open counter space that is a mere 36” in height but runs the entire length of my pharmacy. When I was robbed, the guy did not knock on my door like a rumrunner trying to gain access to my speakeasy. Not he. He. Jumped. The. Counter!


The $600,000 question

Why does the PLO think that a 36”-wide metal door will protect the $600,000 in inventory back there, not to mention all our lives, when any person can jump or slide over any part of my counter? Locking the door during normal business hours when the counters are wide open is like locking the doors to a convertible and leaving the top down ... with the keys in it.

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Okay, now we come to the question, why do people rob pharmacies?

Well, it’s where the drugs are. Plus, it’s really easy to do.

My problem with the corporate policies is this: The bureaucracy does not care about our safety. If we die during an armed robbery, we will quickly be replaced. However, when it comes to the point of view of our families, we cannot be replaced.

My safety is paramount to the safety of my inventory. My staff's safety is equally important to me. How many fatal robberies will it take for companies to take proactive steps toward employee safety? For this same reason, I don't care for the idea of removing pharmacists from the pharmacy and putting them at little desks in the middle of the store.

What to do 

How do we begin to fix it? We are good complainers; however, we don’t complain to the right people and we never complain in a single voice. Here is what I suggest: OSHA.

I researched OSHA online. There is a section specific to Healthcare and Workplace Violence. It starts by saying: 

Workplace violence (WPV) is a recognized hazard in the healthcare industry. WPV is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It can affect and involve workers, clients, customers and visitors. WPV ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data reported healthcare and social assistance workers were the victims of approximately 11,370 assaults by persons; a greater than 13% increase over the number of such assaults reported in 2009.

It goes on to specifics:

Who is at risk of workplace violence?Nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year. Unfortunately, many more cases go unreported. The truth is, workplace violence can strike anywhere, anytime, and no one is immune. Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites. Such factors include exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence. Providing services and care, and working where alcohol is served may also impact the likelihood of violence. Additionally, time of day and location of work, such as working late at night or in areas with high crime rates, are also risk factors that should be considered when addressing issues of workplace violence. Among those with higher risk are workers who exchange money with the public, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel, and those who work alone or in small groups. (Emphasis my own.)

OSHA answers the phone

After reading the above, I called OSHA directly and spent some time talking with a very helpful woman. She was surprised to learn not only that pharmacists have not complained before, but that the pharmacies have continued to remain as open as they are.

She was kind enough to say that OSHA takes every complaint seriously; all complaints are completely anonymous, they investigate each complaint, and if more complaints about a specific company are received at one time, more attention will be given.

I also found out that OSHA is starting to focus more on the healthcare industry, and new guidelines were published recently. 

Here is the link for the complaint form:


We all can do our part

What do I ask of you? First of all, I’m asking you to file a complaint with OSHA.

See also: Six tips for managing your manager

Second, I ask that you get someone else - someone with either your employer or another - to file a complaint as well. (Incidentally, concerned family members or patients or your friendly local police officer are also able to log a complaint.)

I realize it sounds like calling in an air strike on your own coordinates. It isn’t. It’s anonymous. Call for a friend. Call for a colleague. Call for the pharmacist across town who always gets robbed. Just call.

As I said earlier, we are great complainers. I expect a lot of people will complain that this won’t accomplish anything.

I expect that some people will complain that they wasted time reading this article.

I expect people to complain that no one reads or hears their complaints.

Perhaps just this once, we could all complain together. Instead of complaining about the situation, spend your time clicking the link and doing something about it.

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