The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is concerned with the dancers of workplace violence and the threat of violence against employees. Homicide remains a major cause of workplace death in California and nationwide.
More than 2 million people every year face some workplace violence. Professionals and blue-collar workers alike may be victims. In 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 94 people were murdered in the workplace. Although that is down from the more than 200 yearly in the early 1990s, it remains a significant problem.
Violence may range across the spectrum, from verbal abuse, to threats, to assaults, to homicide. Employers should set up zero-tolerance policies against workplace violence, according to OSHA, and employees should be familiar with the policies. Manuals and handbooks should have information on violence prevention. It is best if employers make it clear that all reported incidents will be looked into and corrected.
Workers at risk include those who:
- Work in high crime areas.
- Deliver goods, services, or packages.
- Exchange money with the public.
- Work alone or in small groups on late night or early morning shifts.
Those who work in the community setting or in homes face hazards. Social services providers such as psychiatric evaluators, visiting nurses, other healthcare professionals, and probation officers are at risk. Others are retail workers, taxi drivers, mail carriers, phone and cable TV installers, and gas and water utility workers.
OSHA urges companies to install video surveillance cameras as well as alarms and added lighting. Drop safes should be provided to limit on-hand cash. Access should be controlled through the use of guards, electronic keys, and I.D. badges. It is best if staff is provided with cell phones and hand held alarms.
Employees who must work outside the office building should keep employers informed about their location, for their own safety. It is recommended that escorts be provided for those workers who are uncomfortable leaving the building at night.
Streaming videos and downloads on preventing workplace violence are available through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
OSHA California Worker Safety
Violence in the workplace is an ever-present danger. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has come up with a set of measures that can be taken by employers and employees to stem the hazards of violent workplace incidents.
Employers should develop a standard procedure for dealing with workplace violence, and this procedure should be practiced the way a fire drill is practiced. Employees should take safety-training programs to learn how to recognize, ease, or avoid violent situations. They should let a supervisor know of any safety or security problems, whether it is suspicious activity by a customer or coworker or just a malfunctioning door.
Employees should also report all incidents in writing, and promptly. There are warning signs of workplace violence like property destruction, minor assaults, threats, verbal abuse, and rage. Employers, for their part, should consider each report and every threat as a serious incident and should investigate them, even if they seem minor. A worker who hits someone in the shoulder one day could be the one who shoots and kills a coworker the next. Employers should also keep detailed and accurate records of incidents, by type. They should take corrective measures wherever possible.
Despite precautions, violent episodes may occur in the workplace. If they do, there are steps that can be taken. Employers should offer counseling or stress debriefings to all workers. They should provide first aid and other medical attention right away. The incident should be reported to the police without delay. All victims should be told of their right to take legal action against the perpetrators of the violence. Finally, the incident should be discussed with staff. They should be encouraged to develop and share ideas about prevention.
No employer is capable of guaranteeing the safety of every employee. Nevertheless, OSHA’s General Duty Clause obligates employers to provide what is called a “safe and healthful workplace.” Needless to say, that includes measures to prevent or limit workplace violence and its dangers. OSHA levies stringent penalties against employers who fail to do so.
A new law permits spouses, parents, sons and daughters to take FMLA leave to care for an injured soldier. “Next of kin” are also covered by the new law, which means in some cases aunts, uncles and cousins may also be able to take FMLA leave.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (NDAA), expanded the parameters of the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act).
The soldier may be active military, or a deployed member of the Reserve or National Guard.
In addition to extending leave to families of soldiers, NDAA expands the amount of leave as well. Traditional FMLA allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year, while the new NDAA permits up to 26 weeks.
California FMLA Expansion
This was not the first attempt to pass the NDAA. On December 28, 2007 President George W. Bush vetoed a bill that would have extended Family and Medical Leave to employees whose child, parent or spouse is called to active military duty.
The veto of bill HR 1585, however wasn’t due to the extended FMLA, but because it was included in the National Defense Authorization Act. According to the White House approving the bill would “risk imposing financially devastating hardship on Iraq that will unacceptably interfere with the political and economic progress everyone agrees is critically important to bringing our troops home.”
Some criticize President Bush, claiming the veto will place an undue burden on families of the National Guard and Reserve who are serving in Iraq.
Others applaud President Bush, declaring that an extended FMLA will place undue burden on employers.
It is still likely, however, that 2008 will see a law to extend FMLA to families of the military, expanding FMLA coverage in California and throughout the country.
Currently, FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees to care for a sick family member, or themselves. The bill that was vetoed would have provided up to 26 weeks, or 6 months, of this type of leave for spouses and other relatives of military called to active duty.
The point of the expanded FMLA is to allow family to step in for the National Guard or Reserve member in order to take charge of his or her children, or to care for an ill parent. The leave would be available once per 12 month period.
The current FMLA doesn’t allow for an employee to care for healthy children, except for newborns, newly adopted or newly fostered children. For example, a stay at home mom succumbs to cancer. Her husband can take FMLA to care for her, but not to watch over their healthy children.
Since the veto of bill HR 1585 didn’t relate to the expanded FMLA, the door is open for this leave to be added to another bill later in 2008.
Prior to passage of the NDAA, FMLA leave could only be used to care for a child, parent or spouse when he or she was ill. Caring for healthy children was permitted only upon birth of a child, the adoption of a child, or newly fostering a child into the home. To illustrate, a stay-at-home mom is diagnosed with a long-term illness. Her husband can take FMLA to care for her, but not take care of their healthy children.
In addition to caring for an injured soldier, the NDAA permits spouses, sons, daughters and parents to take unpaid FMLA when a family member is called to active duty. That family member then may stand in for that soldier while he or she is on deployment. This could include taking care of a sick child, or caring for healthy children.
The law went into effect immediately, allowing families to take leave as of January 28, 2008. The U. S. Department of Labor is working to finalize the regulations and hopes that until the information is published, employers will make their best effort to comply.
President Bush previously vetoed an NDAA bill with this extended FMLA law, but explained that veto wasn’t due to the leave portion of the bill. This statement opened the door for the expanded FMLA to be attached to another bill and gain its recent passage.
To the worker who’s not watching, or to the trespasser looking for a place to play, abandoned mine property may seem like a harmless place. But beneath the surface, so to speak, lie all kinds of dangers – from falls down mine shafts to snake bites to deadly explosions.
Such dangers have prompted the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
MSHA has launched an effort to reduce the threat to California worker safety and the safety of children and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. The campaign is “Stay Out – Stay Alive.”
Each year workers in many fields are hurt when falling into mine shafts. The list of victims also includes children who trespass or wander onto property housing old, abandoned mines. More than 200 people have been killed yearly since 1999 as a result of these accidents. Besides children and outdoor activities enthusiasts, workers are susceptible to accidents on mine property.
The program may include visits by mine safety and health experts to scout organizations, schools, and other groups to talk to youngsters about of the many dangers that can face them if they wander onto abandoned mining property. It also involves public service announcements warning against accidental trespassing.
Richard Stickler, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, says there are about a half-million abandoned mines and another 14,000 active ones in the U.S. “Many of them contain hidden hazards and, for those not trained to work in mines, the outcome can be deadly.”
The many hidden hazards to Colorado worker safety include old explosives – some misfired, some never used. Blasting caps may be extremely risky, and might be set off by a simple touch.
But there are other hazards as well. Hidden mine shafts, some of them hundreds of feet deep, may lie in wait for the explorer or the worker. And they can be deceptive. Sometimes they are covered by boards that have turned rotten or become decayed. They may break under the least weight. Tunnels are apt to cave in. They are often plagued by poisonous snakes and insects or by poisonous gases.
With the statistics rising for the industrial use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), many employers may be asking themselves how they can ensure that their employees stay safe while operating these vehicles.
A California Worker Safety Alert highlights the number of ATVs being used in industry. A recently issued bulletin on the subject, discusses operating guidelines and training that employers should follow to ensure that their employees are protected from ATV accidents.
Over the last ten years, over 800,000 ATV related injuries have been reported. From 1982 there were 29 fatalities. This rose to 470 in 2004. Total injuries reached a high of 136,100 for a single year in 2004.
These statistics are for recreational use, but with industries such as construction, agriculture, law enforcement and facilities management increasingly using ATVs in the workplace, it is important that employers address the issue of safety for their workers who operate the vehicles.
There are guidelines for employers who need to know how to keep their workers safe from ATV accidents.
Ensure that workers wear safety helmets when operating ATVs.
Do not use ATVs to transport heavy loads from one place to another. Even though some have storage racks on the front or rear, heavy loads may cause the vehicle to become unstable.
Do not modify the vehicle in any way. Some ATVs have been modified to accommodate extra machinery. Again, this can cause the vehicle to become unstable.
Follow a comprehensive training program for everyone who is involved in the operating of ATVs.
Always make sure that ATVs are being operated according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Many people see ATVs being used as recreational vehicles and assume that they are safe. They have even been used by children in outdoor activities. But employers need to be aware that these vehicles handle very differently from the average car or motor bike, and must not assume that an employee automatically knows how to operate an ATV.
Workers in Northern California will soon enjoy a giant step toward the 21st century by means of a $5 million worker-training grant awarded by a federal program called WIRED.
The initial phase of the WIRED grant was a fund of $500,000 to develop a plan to address California unemployment issues. That plan is almost complete. Once it is done, the US Dept. of Labor will release the remainder of the $5 million grant.
WIRED is the acronym for Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development, an initiative operating under the auspices of the Employment and Training Administration within the US Department of Labor. The federal training grant awarded to Northern California was recently announced by US Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. In her announcement, Secretary Chao stated, “Investing in area workforces through this collaborative approach will boost entire regions’ economic vitality.”
Keeping job skills current and competitive with today’s increasingly global economy and job market are driving forces behind the WIRED initiative. Secretary Chao adds, “This regional economic development strategy transcends political boundaries to better leverage a region’s assets to help workers succeed in the 21st century worldwide economy.”
Northern California has long been an area known for poor economic performance. High unemployment rates, inadequate worker skills, and job training programs aggravate this poor economy. The current wave of grants awarded by WIRED, including the $5 million recently awarded to Northern California, is expected to exceed $65 million.
The WIRED initiative has a proven track record of success with the programs it has developed to improve the economic performance in historically underperforming areas such as Northern California. WIRED has previously awarded $195 million to 13 regions around the country that now enjoy an improved economic outlook and lower rates of unemployment as a result of the WIRED grants they received in recent years. These areas of distressed economy were identified by state governors supplying competitive data for regions within their states.
The $5 million WIRED grant to Northern California will be meted out in two stages. Funding of the remaining $4.5 million once an implementation plan for the region has been developed will follow an initial gift of $500,000 earmarked for training.