Safety Management In A Retail Gun Store Environment
When training new Range Safety Officers I always ask the question, “What is the first priority of a shooting range?” The overwhelming majority of respondents say “Safety First” to which I respond I have a system that will guarantee no range will suffer a shooting accident: Cease all shooting activity!
Whether you’re operating a shooting range or a gun store with no live fire capability the first priority should be to conduct the daily operation in a manner as safe as possible that is conducive to running a business. It is that “running a business” part that makes things a bit more challenging.
Conventional wisdom tells us that safety is the responsibility of the operator. While that is in its essence true it is not that simple. Experience has shown operating in an environment that does not actively support an institutionalized safety doctrine can over time degrade the emphasis on individual safe practices. It is therefore essential that even a gun store without a live fire range still develop and strictly adhere to a safety management system (SMS) to protect its customers and staff.
System Approach to Safety Management
It is essential that a gun store develops, publishes and gives every employee a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual that covers all aspects of the operation. This not only provides a blueprint for day-to-day operations but in the event of litigation it shows that management is serious about a safe, organized operation. An integral and critical component of the SOP should be an SMS.
An SMS consists of four components that must be addressed: Safety Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance and Safety Promotion.
Safety Policy is a written statement by an employer stating the company’s commitment for the protection of the health and safety of employees and the public. Every facility that stores, uses or sells firearms should have an SOP that includes specific procedures for the safe handling of firearms and ammunition.
For instance, in a gun store it would include a policy with respect to keeping ammunition separated from the firearms on display. There is no justification for live ammunition to be in proximity to firearms in an environment where the firearms will never be live-fired but likely to be dry-fired as a matter of a routine sales operation. If a customer wants to feel how a firearm feeds ammunition there are high quality inert snap caps readily available for that purpose.
The primary issues that should be of concern when allowing a customer to handle a firearm are:
A policy that every customer who is going to handle a firearm should be given a safe handling briefing before passing the actual firearm.
The firearm must be unloaded with the action open prior to passing it to a customer.
The staff member must visually check it followed by the recipient visually checking it after handoff.
The staff member designates a safe zone where the firearm must remain pointed at all times. The zone should not be accessible to customers.
The finger must be kept off the trigger until ready to dry fire the firearm.
If snap caps or other inert rounds are being used the instructor must identify each round inserted in the firearm to avoid a negligent discharge.
Safety Risk Management is the second component. It is a key component of a successful safety management system which requires an assessment of the risks associated with identified hazards, and the development and implementation of effective mitigation. There is a significant difference in safety expectation when working with experienced nationally ranked competitive shooters and an unknown customer who walks into a gun store. Each situation must be evaluated and the level of oversight must reflect it.
Safety Assurance is the means to demonstrate that organizational arrangements and processes for safety achievement are properly applied and continue to achieve their intended objectives. Safety Assurance should be intrusive and enquiring and not simply an administrative box ticking exercise. In a gun store it may take the form of video surveillance that observes the way staff is dealing with safety on a daily basis. On a shooting range the better choice is likely to be a trained NRA certified Range Safety Officer.
Finally, Safety Promotion is a set of means, processes and procedures that are used to develop, sustain and improve safety through awareness raising and changing behaviors. All new hire staff members should be given a formal training program covering safety issues as well as other administrative issues. An integral part of a safety program would be recurrent training for all staff members.