May 20 started out like any other day for Nancy Harris, 76. The store had just opened at 7 a.m. at the Fina Whip-In in Garland, Texas, and Harris, who was working alone, was expecting to sell coffee, sodas and snack items all day. Instead, a robber dowsed her in a flammable liquid and set her on fire after he cleaned out the cash register during a robbery.
“It didn’t look like there was any resistance from her any time,” said Garland police spokesman Officer Joe Harn. “There’s no reason why you would set a 76-year-old woman on fire.”
A patrol car happened to be passing by the store when Harris stumbled out of the door, still ablaze. The officers were able to put the flames out with a fire extinguisher and Harris was able to give them a description of Johnson before she was taken to a local hospital.
Following the robbery, Matthew Lee Johnson, 36, ran to a nearby neighborhood and tried to break into several homes, where he was caught by police. Johnson, 36, who recently had been released from prison after a 6-year incarceration on a drug charge, was arrested for both the attack on Harris and the attempted robberies. Harris clung to life for nearly a week, eventually succumbing to burns over 40 percent of her body. Johnson was charged with capital murder in her death.
OSHA’s Dallas Area Office opened an investigation at the Garland store in May and expanded the investigation to include the company's three other stores in Dallas and Mesquite. The agency found that workers at those locations were exposed to the same or similar workplace violence hazards.
“Handling money, working alone and standing behind open counters leaves employees vulnerable to violent crimes,” said Stephen Boyd, OSHA’s area director in Dallas. “If the employer had conducted an analysis to identify risk for violence, implemented appropriate control measures and provided training to ensure awareness of potential violence, it is possible that this tragic loss of life could have been avoided.”
Each store was cited with violating OSHA’s General Duty Clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause serious injury or death. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. The citations carry total proposed penalties of $19,600.
Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening and disruptive behavior that occurs at a work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.
TMT, which is headquartered in Dallas, employs more than 60 employees across the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with Boyd or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.