Preventing and Mitigating Workplace Violence

When shooting rampages happen, they make headlines. They do so, of course, because they are relatively rare. But violence and threats of violence all along the spectrum occur in workplaces all over the country.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were approximately 572,000 nonfatal incidents of workplace violence in 2009 alone. These incidents include assault and battery, rape and sexual assault and robbery. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a broader definition of workplace violence, and estimates that it strikes as many as 2 million workers each year.

Workplace violence can arise as the result of assaultive or threatening behavior among employees, between supervisors and employees, and even from outside the workplace. It is not unusual, for example, for upset significant others and exes to show up at the workplace to harass, threaten or assault employees. Unfortunately, businesses need to have a plan to prevent workplace violence, and a plan and resources to mitigate it when it occurs.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can be a victim of workplace violence at any time. But according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, those most at risk of workplace violence include anyone who handles cash or valuable goods and interacts with the public, workers who work in very small groups or who work alone, law enforcement officers and others involved in social services with unstable or criminal populations, such as visiting psychiatric workers, health care workers and probation officers. Taxi drivers and letter carriers are also at an elevated risk.

Countermeasures

OSHA recommends a “zero tolerance” policy for workplace violence incidents caused by employees. Include language in your employee handbook and/or new hire packet that makes it clear that one incident of threatening or other violent behavior will result in immediate termination of employment.

This is important to protect the business as well. If you give an employee a second chance and he hurts someone, that is a powerful cause of action against you, the employer. If a worker suffers damages as a result of workplace violence, an employer that kept a known offender on the payroll despite a history of incidents is much more likely to face severe punitive sanctions, over and above compensating the employee for injuries suffered, if the case goes to court. Settlements will likely be less favorable to the employer, as well.

Install access control systems.

Access control systems allow the employer to control who gains access to the workplace. For example, you can install a key-card swipe system. Then if you want to revoke a former employee’s access to the building, you don’t have to change locks – just deactivate the former employee’s swipe card. A punch code system works, too – whenever anyone leaves the company, the HR director notifies the security director, who changes the access code and notifies current employees.

Of course, both systems work to prevent access to street criminals and anyone else looking to gain unauthorized access to the workplace as well, not just former employees.

Add lighting.

The walk from the office to the workers’ cars can be hazardous. You can mitigate that by adding extra lighting and security surveillance of the parking lot. Workers can go to cars in groups, as well.

Get cash out of the registers

Cash on hand is an obvious robbery target – particularly after dark. Employers can install drop safes and time lock safes to ensure that the potential payoff is not worth the risk of a robbery attack. Employers can also work to move cash transactions to electronic or credit card transactions, further reducing the amount of cash exposed.

Empower Employees

Home health care aides, maids and cleaners and others are routinely in homes and workplaces alone. Employees should have the authority to assess whether their workplace is unsafe, and to refuse to enter into unsafe situations without fear of reprisal by the employer.

Sterilize Field Workers

When employees go out into the community to work, they should not bring their purses or any other valuable items with them. Provide a safe place for workers to store purses and anything else of value. Encourage workers to bring nothing but required identification and lunch money out into the community or a hazardous worksite.

Have a Crisis Response Plan

Develop a crisis response plan to handle any incident you can reasonably foresee, and update it regularly. This could be a plan to quickly evacuate the entire office in the event of a bomb threat or shooting incident, or to evacuate a single employee out of site of a jealous ex or stalker who may become a problem. Rehearse these plans periodically, and speak with employees about updating them.

Also, be sure to have an adequately-stocked first-aid kit on hand, and invest in training employees in how to provide assistance to anyone injured.

Encourage employees to share information

Occasionally issues from outside the workplace can spill into the office. Encourage employees who are having issues in their private lives to notify security without fear of embarrassment. This will allow decision makers to take appropriate actions to control access and to identify a potentially violent person the minute he shows up in the area. That may give security time to block access, notify law enforcement, and ensure the targeted worker is in a safe location.

 

Understanding OSHA and Which Workplaces Must Comply

The bill that would lead to the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect on April 28, 1971. When Congress passed the bill, they made it clear that their intention was to ensure that every working individual in the nation would have healthful and safe working conditions. OSHA was then formed as a division of the Department of Labor. After being formed, it was given the power to enforce and set safety and health standards for American workplaces. In addition to this, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which is a research institute for disease control, was established. OSHA describes employers as any persons engaged in businesses that affect commerce and have employees. However, political subdivisions of individual states and the United States political divisions are not included.

Nearly all workplaces must comply with OSHA. Hospitals, offices of charities, private schools, labor unions, restaurants, construction companies, law firms, manufacturers and many more types of businesses must follow OSHA’s regulations. Religious organizations that have employees for secular purposes are included. Family farms, people who are self employed and workplaces that are subject to other federal laws are exempt. Some examples of workplaces that are subject to other federal laws include nuclear weapons manufacturers, airlines, railroads and mining companies. State and local governments are also exempt. However, the United States Postal Service and other federal agencies are included.

Under OSHA regulations, employers are required to:

– Comply with and be familiar with applicable standards.

– Maintain practices that keep workers reasonably safe on the job.

– Make sure employees are provided with necessary protective equipment when applicable.

This is part of the General Duty clause. When OSHA acts on the clause, there must be four elements present:

– There must be a hazard.

– The hazard has to be recognized.

– The hazard is likely to cause serious injuries or death.

– It must be possible to correct the hazard.

Since it is difficult for OSHA to make rules, the division mostly focuses on mechanical and chemical hazards instead of procedural tasks. They currently focus on falls, electrical hazards, toxic substances, digging trenches, infectious diseases, hazardous waste, explosion dangers and machine hazards.

If an employee dies due to a work-related injury, an employer must report the death to OSHA within eight hours. This is also true if there are three or more workers hospitalized as a result of a workplace accident. Workplace injuries must always be reported in a timely manner. Reports must be kept on file for five years following an injury. Any on-the-job heart attacks must also be reported immediately. It is important for employers to communicate with their workers about hazards and procedures to avoid them. Technical guides and material safety data sheets should be available to all workers.

OSHA forbids employers from retaliating, discriminating against or discharging any employees for exercising their rights outlined in Section 11. Employees have the right to contact OSHA about concerns, participate in proceedings and participate in inspections. Some states adopt their own safety and health plans, which is permitted in Section 18 of OSHA. However, the state’s standards must be effective in creating healthful and safe employment.

Five Ways to Avoid OSHA Penalties

During the first half of October 2014, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a dozen citations against employers. A New Hampshire roofing contractor was fined $61,600 for not providing adequate fall protection. A Connecticut roofing contractor faces several citations following a fatal accident in July. A metal parts processor in Ohio was cited for 10 serious violations and $64,000 in fines over the accidental death of a supervisor. A cabinet maker in New Jersey faces a six-figure fine for exposing employees to a carcinogenic chemical. The death of an employee on a conveyor belt has a Mississippi lumberyard facing a $75,000 penalty.

Noncompliance with OSHA regulations can cost employers a lot of money. The good news is that complying does not have to be cumbersome or expensive. These procedures and attitudes can help a company keep its name out of an OSHA news release.

Improve record keeping. Good documentation is an employer’s first defense against an OSHA inquiry. Information gaps in the OSHA 300 log (the record of work-related injuries and illnesses) may prompt inspectors to conduct comprehensive safety audits of businesses. Filling in missing information for the past three to five years can save your business a lot of grief and expense. Check personnel files and workers’ compensation loss records for details of accidents.

Focus on ergonomics. Preventing repetitive motion disorders can help businesses avoid citations and penalties. It also reduces workers’ compensation insurance premiums in the long run. Analyze how workers are performing their tasks and look for ways to reduce the strain on their joints, necks and backs.

Fix the routine violations first. Some safety issues are simple and cost little or nothing to correct. For example:

  • Blocked exits
  • Lack of protective equipment, such as gloves and safety goggles
  • Poor housekeeping
  • Improper storage of materials such as flammable liquids

These problems can accumulate over time. OSHA has penalized businesses with large numbers of violations like these, so it pays to monitor and correct them.

Have a plan for disasters. The weather has become more volatile, as the tornadoes of recent years and storms like 2012’s Superstorm Sandy have shown. Contagions such as the Ebola virus can come seemingly from out of nowhere. Businesses must be ready for the unexpected. Disaster plans should include:

  • Training for employees on what to do in the event of an emergency
  • Procedures for safe evacuation from the building
  • Workplace hygiene
  • Stockpiling of emergency supplies such as first-aid kits
  • Training for employees on how to administer first aid and CPR
  • Arrangements for operating from remote locations
  • Communications with employees, their families, customers and vendors

Although OSHA is not concerned with some of these aspects of the plan, having them in place will help the business survive the event.

View safety as a profit driver, not a cost center. Preventing workplace injuries costs money, but it also can improve a business’s profitability. Some project owners and general contractors will consider bids only from contractors with workers’ compensation experience modifications lower than 1.0. Firms with a reputation for safe operations will attract better workers. Also, insurance does not cover many of the costs from workplace accidents, such as time spent on investigating the incident, reduced employee morale, lost productivity, reporting costs, and the cost of OSHA penalties. Money saved on prevented accidents goes straight to the bottom line.

Some workplace injuries occur despite an employer’s best efforts to prevent them. However, reasonable steps to improve workplace safety reduce the frequency and severity of injuries, make the business more competitive, and avoid problems when an OSHA inspector visits. To learn more, contact ACBI. 

OSHA Stands Ready to Assist Small Businesses

With everything small business owners have to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And depending on your industry, just keeping up with the changing regulations and requirements regarding workplace safety can be a challenge  – much less actually bringing your company in compliance. Larger companies can afford to have dedicated safety and compliance staff. Smaller companies too often flounder until they get in serious trouble – or worse, a worker gets injured or killed on the job.

Fortunately, help is out there. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recognizes many of the challenges that small businesses, especially, face, and has made resources available to assist.

If you are a small business owner or manager responsible for workplace safety, don’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of these programs and outreach services.

On-Site Consultations

If you let problems go uncorrected and you don’t ask for help, and an OSHA inspector visits and discovers the problem, if a worker gets hurt on the job because of your negligence in complying with OSHA and state regulations, or if an employee or competitor simply observes and reports a violation, you could be in for tens of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties.

However, OSHA would rather help you identify the problem and correct it now, rather than enforce it later. That’s where the on-site consultation program comes in.

In an on-site visit, OSHA will send a consultant to your workplace or worksites to conduct a walk-through and inspection. The consultant will first brief you on the scope of the visit, his or her responsibilities as the inspector and your responsibilities as the business owner or executive.  They will then walk with you and conduct a detailed inspection of your business and help you identify potential safety issues. They will also help advise you on strategies to correct them.

In many cases, the OSHA inspector will have training materials and other tools you can use to create your own in-house safety compliance program.

Shortly after the end of the visit, the OSHA consultant will provide you a detailed written report with recommendations and requirements. If there is a safety issue, you will be given an abatement period to enable you to correct the problem. If you can correct issues within the timeframes provided, you will not generally be responsible for any fines. For the most part, the OSHA consultation problem is a free look. However, in some instances the inspector finds a hazard so severe that they do order an immediate shutdown until the hazard is corrected.

On-site consultants do not cite or report you to OSHA enforcement officials for hazards discovered during a site visit. You will not be fined for anything discovered during an on-site consultation. You will have the opportunity to correct these hazards before enforcement gets involved. Only where there is a failure to make agreed to or required improvements will OSHA enforcement officials get involved.

Compliance Assistance

It’s not enough just to correct visible safety hazards on the ground. A successful compliance effort also requires ongoing documentation. You should be keeping careful maintenance records, documenting lockout/tagout policies, ensuring vehicle and heavy equipment operators are licensed and qualified, and any number of other tedious paperwork tasks that all too easily fall through the cracks. OSHA provides compliance assistance visits to monitor your ongoing efforts and help your administrative staff keep records up to date. It’s up to you to request the visits, however.

OSHA also developed a “QuickStart” program designed to get new businesses or businesses with long-neglected safety compliance programs up and running fast. The QuickStart program is a step-by-step guide to managers about how to build the skeleton of a system for ongoing compliance. OSHA has developed specific QuickStart programs for the construction and health care industries as well as general industry.

If you have many Spanish-speaking employees, see also OSHA’s Hispanic outreach program materials here. You may also want to make use of OSHA’s Diverse Workforce/Limited English Proficiency Coordinators.

Online Resources

OSHA has made a broad array of resources, tools and training materials available online here. The backbone of the program is the Safety and Health Management Systems E-Tool. OSHA also publicizes statistics and data, and maintains an extensive library of electronic publications available free for download.

$afety Pays

Curious to see how your safety track record actually impacts your firm’s or your industry’s profitability? OSHA maintains a $afety Pays website, that helps you crunch the numbers to see firsthand what workers compensation costs do to your business’s bottom line. You can even generate a report of costs and the sales needed to cover those costs – a valuable tool to show employees when they understand that it also impacts the amount of money available for pay increases!

ACBI has a vast variety of tools and materials to educate and assist you with OSHA related topics.  Call us today at 203-259-7580 or visit our website to request a call back.

OSHA Plans Big Increase in Workplace Health Inspections

If you’ve got workers, keep them safe. The latest federal budget slashed a lot of money from the military. But it fully funded all requested enforcement activities of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency responsible for monitoring and enforcing workplace safety standards. That said, OSHA has also announced that while it is expanding its enforcement efforts in certain industries, and substantially expanding its workplace health inspection program, some types of site inspections will see reductions. These include safety inspections and state level inspections.

Specifically, the new budget allocates $552.2 million to OSHA, and $208 million specifically to support enforcement activities. That represents an overall OSHA enforcement activities budget increase of $17 million over the prior year.

OSHA has indicated it will focus enforcement issues on more dangerous industries, focusing on preventing the most common causes of workplace fatalities:

  • Falling
  • Electrocution
  • ‘Struck-by’ accidents
  • ‘Caught in between’ accidents

OSHA also plans to increase scrutiny of these kinds of worksites:

  • Refineries
  • Excavation and trenching
  • Primary metal industries
  • Sites that contain isocyanates
  • Hazardous machinery
  • Nursing and care homes
  • Combustible dust
  • Shipbreaking,
  • Worksites that include crystalline silica
  • Worksites that contain lead
  • Worksites that contain hexavalent chromium

As part of this effort, OSHA stated it plans to conduct nearly 40,000 site inspections during the fiscal year 2014, already underway as of October 2013. Of these, 31,400 will be safety inspections, and 7,850 of them will be health inspections, according to the agency. Overall, the agency plans to conduct 450 more health inspections in FY 2014 than it did during the previous fiscal year, but fewer inspections overall, according to reporting from the Society for Human Resource Management. OSHA is projecting that it will actually conduct 2,200 fewer safety inspections than they did last year.

The reason: OSHA cites man-hour allocation issues. Some site inspections are much more man-hour intensive than others, and therefore much more costly to perform. OSHA is seeking to get more bang for the buck invested.

OSHA’s force of compliance officers is likely to increase scrutiny not just on simple fixes, but to conduct more involved compliance checks, such as process safety management, PSM Covered Chemical Facilities, Petroleum Refinery Process Safety Management programs, bloodborne pathogen countermeasures, and respiratory protection protocols.

State-Level Inspections to Decrease

OSHA is projecting fewer inspections by state-level occupational safety agencies, and attributes the decline to state budget problems. OSHA projects that the 27 state-plan agencies will perform about 50,350 inspections, which represents a decline of about 2 percent compared to 2012.