Transporting valuables is a dangerous business. The mounting pressure to stay profitable and competitive aside, the armoured-truck industry’s move towards the controversial “alloff model” has not only raised eyebrows, but also revived the debate of how to keep both the cargo and its guardians safe.
In 2012, three security guards were killed and a fourth was critically wounded in Edmonton when $1.9 million was stolen from an armoured truck during a routine stop at a local mall. Two years later, an armoured-truck employee fatally shot a 32-year-old man who was attempting to rob the guards as they emptied an automated teller machine. That same year, an armoured-truck guard was shot multiple times after being ambushed outside a Toronto bank.
Threats of violence define the work that guards and drivers in the armoured-car industry face daily — and that threat is escalating, says Paul Carson, vice president of Paragon Security in Toronto. “The industry is a royal commission waiting to happen.”
Safety concerns in the armoured-car industry include understaffing and controversy surrounding the “all-off” model, which requires both staff in a vehicle carrying a twoperson crew to exit the car during stops — an approach that is widely considered dangerous, but continues to be used by major security companies.
According to Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, there have been more than 85 armoured-car robberies in Canada since 2000, resulting in five deaths and countless physical and mental injuries. The numbers are likely higher since many attempts go unreported, says Mike Armstrong, Unifor’s national staff representative and the union’s lead on armoured-car-industry matters in Ottawa. Then there are the near misses. “Crews are followed every night. This is organized crime.”
THE PROBLEM WITH “ALL-OFF”
The risks of the secure-logistics industry can be attributed to numerous factors. Foremost among them is the move throughout North America to shrink the crew operating an armoured vehicle from three to two members. Traditionally, an armoured-vehicle crew comprises three people: a driver, who operates the vehicle, maintains delivery logs and assists with loading and unloading the vehicle; a messenger, who collects and delivers goods while maintaining constant communication with the driver; and a guard, who protects the messenger and the goods.
With the elimination of the guard, the driver must now double up as a guard and exit the truck to pick up or deliver money, hence giving rise to the term “all-off model”, since both personnel have to leave the vehicle. “When they come out, there is no one in the truck to give them a heads up. That is when they are vulnerable,” Armstrong says.
That vulnerability has been quantified. Since 2013, each reported armoured-car robbery has involved a two-person crew, with many occurring in public spaces or near residential areas. The two-person model requires the messenger, especially those servicing automated teller machines, to focus intensely on servicing and balancing the machine — a task that leaves them with little attention span to observe their surroundings, explains Jim McGuffey, owner of A.C.E. Security Consultants in Bluffton, South Carolina and chapter chair with ASIS International, an Alexandria, Virginia-based global organization for security professionals.
“The best practice is to have a three-person crew, which allows the driver to remain inside the vehicle to focus on the surrounding area” while the messenger and guard are inside a customer location, McGuffey says. That best practice was recently enshrined — and overruled, at least for now — in the findings of a 2016 decision by Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal Canada, which is part of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). The decision granted a stay of the direction issued by an official delegated by the federal Minister of Labour regarding the work refusal of Robert Dendura, an Edmontonbased armoured-car guard of Brink’s Canada Limited. Dendura refused to work on July 17, 2016, citing safety concerns associated with the all-off model.
The investigator concluded that the model does not sufficiently mitigate the danger of assaults against employees during a robbery attempt, nor does it provide employees with any information of suspicious persons or activities occurring outside while they are inside the customer’s location. As a result, the employees have a diminished ability to avoid potential ambush upon returning to the armoured vehicle.
The ruling ordered Brink’s to change from a two- to three-person crew immediately, so that the driver could remain in the vehicle to keep watch over his colleagues. This finding also backed an earlier Ministry of Labour investigation ruling. The ministerial delegate concluded that the implementation of the “all-off” model constituted a danger and issued a direction to the employer under the Canada Labour Code, Part II to alter the activity that constitutes the danger immediately.
“The directives in the original order recognized that the use of two-person, all-off crews elevates the danger of armoured-car personnel being attacked in public, which also increases the risk to innocent bystanders,” Armstrong notes. In its appeal of both orders, Brink’s was granted a temporary stay, which was extended this spring and will remain in effect until the appeal has concluded.
In his book Introduction to Private Security, Jack Dempsey notes that armoured-car personnel face a higher level of danger than that in other robberies. “The risk of violence associated with an armoured-car robbery is about 54 per cent, as opposed to just five per cent for a bank robbery,” he notes.
The increased violence is likely linked to the sheer value of the loot, which can run in the millions, resulting in a more concerted effort on the part of the perpetrators to succeed. “Those who would attack an armoured car typically lie in wait. They will do almost anything to make sure their plan comes to fruition,” Carson suggests.
Two interconnected factors drive employers’ desire to reduce crew size. First is commoditization, which Carson says is a significant issue in the industry. “The buying of pencils can be commoditized, but armoured cars cannot be. This is a safety issue.”
Increased demand for armoured-car services turns up the pressure to reduce costs. “The industry is changing rapidly,” Armstrong observes. “Automated teller machines used to have five- to six-day service. Now, there are five to six changes a week.”
McGuffey believes that many companies are placing money before people. Over the past three decades, larger customers, such as banks and commercial accounts, began to merge and increase their footprints, giving them better leverage to negotiate more favourable carrier pricing by offering large pieces of work at substantially lower rates.
“It is not the customer’s fault for wanting to maximize their profits,” McGuffey notes, “but they must realize that the cash-in-transit industry is a low-margin industry compared to the risk it carries, and it will ultimately create problems for all concerned.”
A 2016 report from Unifor, Armed and Safe, notes that the most recent annual financial reports for Brink’s revealed global operating profits of US$56 million on revenues of $3.1 billion, yielding a modest operating margin of nearly two per cent. The recent international growth of GardaWorld Corporation boosted revenues to more than $2 billion in 2016, but the company’s expansion also weighed heavily on the security transport company’s bottom line, which posted a net loss of $140 million.
There is no significant counterbalance to the demands for greater profit and reduced costs in a sector that has relatively few safety requirements, none of which directly addresses minimum-crew requirements. “There is no real regulation in the armouredcar industry,” Armstrong says. “School-bus drivers have a thousand more regulations.”
The Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR) apply to employers in the armoured-car industry that fall under federal jurisdiction, according to Christopher Simard, an ESDC spokesperson based in Gatineau, Quebec. The COHSR are hazards-based, meaning that employers must comply with regulations that are applicable to their work and workplaces, although few apply specifically to the armouredcar industry.
The federal regulations also require companies that cross provincial lines to establish health and safety committees or appoint oh&s representatives to help the employer identify the necessary measures to protect employees against workplace injury and illness. If a health and safety officer discovers a situation or activity that presents a danger in the workplace, they may issue a Danger Direction.
“This directs an employer and/or employee to correct the violation, terminate the activity or stop using the equipment, which poses an imminent danger to employees’ health or safety,” Simard says. This was the option that Dendura exercised when he refused to work on the grounds that the two-person crew structure implemented by his employer exposed him to danger.
While the legislation has teeth, its bite is not as sharp or deep as it once was. Currently, a danger is defined as “any hazard, condition or activity that could reasonably be expected to be an imminent or serious threat to the life or health of a person exposed to it before the hazard or condition can be corrected or the activity altered.”
According to Armstrong, an omnibus bill that was passed under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper contained working changes that significantly realigned the health and safety landscape in Canada by replacing the word “perceived” with “imminent”.
“That was the Conservative government’s contribution to the labour movement,” Armstrong says.
UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT
The dispute between Brink’s and the work refusal by its guard drew national headlines and put safety concerns in the armoured-car industry under the spotlight. Peter Julian, the NDP’s Member of Parliament for New Westminster in Burnaby, is also creating awareness of the issues with a private member’s bill tabled in the summer of 2016. Bill C-285, National Standards for the Armoured Transport of Currency and Valuables Act, calls for the federal government to consult with the provinces, territories and industry stakeholders to develop national standards regarding employee training, vehicle specifications, crew complements and safety-equipment requirements.
Unifor, which applauds the proposed bill, would like to see a harmonized federal regulatory framework in place. In addition, the union is urging the government to create comprehensive federal safety standards and regulations for the armoured-car sector, establish standardized firearms, use-of-force and heavy-vehicle training requirements, develop mandatory crew complements based on the level of risk, regulate vehicle specifications and institute compulsory use of bulletproof vests.
Most of these issues are already covered in Bill C-285, but most private members’ bills never see the legislative light of day. Armstrong is cautiously optimistic that Julian’s bill might be endorsed. “At least this government is listening,” he notes.
In the absence of legislation or specific regulations for the armoured-truck industry, McGuffey points out that there are steps that employers can take to beef up safety. “The industry is in desperate need of leaders that will take a stance with pricing and doing what is right for their stockholders, their customers and their team members,” says McGuffey, adding that he would like employers to start making highlevel changes by rethinking their existing reward structure.
“Carriers must offer less incentives to middle and especially senior managers and more to those frontline people who risk their lives each day for their company. Due to large bonuses for increased profits, senior managers have focused more on reducing costs than on balancing risk with profit.”
Wage increases need to occur annually, McGuffey adds, as wages in this sector are generally low, considering the high risks involved. According to Pay Scale Human Capital, a Seattle-based company that has compiled the world’s largest database of individual salary profiles, an armoured-car guard and driver in Canada earn an average wage of $20.34 an hour, with an hourly range of $14.74 to $28.80.
Regarding mitigating risks on the ground, McGuffey suggests that sites be inspected for safety, security and time required to service before an actual run. He cites some carriers in Canada that perform a site inspection at each customer location prior to service. “This is a great practice, provided managers heed the findings of site assessments.”
Crew size must be predicated on risks, such as the amount of currency on board the truck and going into and out of each stop, as well as the existing security and safety measures at each customer location. Training also needs to be customized. “Training must be pertinent to duties and ongoing,” McGuffey advises. “If carriers are instructing crews to fire through the gun portal, then training to do this must occur, as normal range instruction does not teach this specialized sort of shooting.” He also recommends daily inspection of equipment.
But Armstrong suggests that in spite of daily inspections, guards and drivers may still find themselves left to their own devices. “These crews are out in the middle of the night in the middle of winter. Often, they don’t have cell service and even the satellite radios don’t work inside the mall.”
ON THE ROAD
Among other significant threats that armoured-car personnel face, vehicle accidents top the list. Armoured trucks are difficult to bring to a stop, tough to maneuver and can easily blow a tire when overloaded.
In 2013, an armoured-car guard was one of two people killed in a highway accident in northern Alberta when the armoured car collided head-on with a pickup truck on icy road conditions. A year earlier, two armoured-truck crew members were seriously injured in a road accident near Kirkland Lake, Ontario — an incident that spilled millions of dollars in loonies and toonies across the highway. These coins pose a serious threat to armoured-car employees, especially those sitting in the back of the vehicle.
“If there is an accident, these [coins] would certainly become projectiles. The guard and the messenger would be in jeopardy,” Carson says.
Experts agree that there is room for safety improvements in the sector, but the industry seems to be inching towards greater rather than reduced risk. There are signs that armoured vehicles in Canada and the United States are moving towards one-person crews. According to Armstrong, two of the largest companies in the United States — GardaWorld and Brink’s — are both using one-person crews. “Brink’s is moving 900 two-person crews to one-person crews by 2019,” Armstrong says. “That is purely for profit.”
McGuffey confirms that the practice, which is already occurring in some cities in North America. He points to the lack of leadership within the industry, which continues to place profit ahead of safety. Stockholders have become used to substantially increased profits each year, pressuring carriers to accomplish more with less. Many carriers are reducing crew size — in some cases, using one-person crews for routes that are considered to be of lower risk.
“Carriers must do a better job at balancing risk against profit,” McGuffey says. Managers should address four questions prior to signing a contract: is the quoted rate good for the stockholders; is it good for the company; is it good for the customer; and is it good for those frontline team members who make it happen every day by risking their lives? “The answer to all four questions must be yes.”
donalee Moulton is a writer in Halifax.