In Mississippi and throughout the United States, homicide is a major cause of workplace fatalities. The Bureau of Statistics reports that over 200 murders occurred on the job in the early 1990s. In 2006, that number had decreased to 94 murders, but homicides are still a large component of workplace violence.
Workplace violence is defined by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) as ranging from threats to physical abuse and homicide. These attacks can occur on the premises of the workplace, or away from the job. Every year, over 2 million Americans are victims of workplace violence.
Certain occupations are particularly susceptible to violence on the job. Perhaps the most obvious are persons who work in high crime areas and who work alone or in small groups late at night. Less obvious are nurses and other healthcare personnel. Statistics, in fact, show that nurses are assaulted on the job as often as police officers. The majority of incidents occur in the hospital, but some occur when nurses do home visits.
Any employee who deals extensively with the public is at an increased risk of workplace violence. Delivery personnel, probation officers, social workers, postal carriers and utility workers are just a few of the occupations exposed to increased risk.
OSHA provides employers with several ideas on how to prevent violence on the job. One suggestion is to limit access to the workplace by issuing I.D. badges and electronic keys to all workers. Guards can also be placed at strategic positions to limit access.
In addition, alarm systems, video surveillance and plenty of lighting should be installed. Workers can be issued hand-held alarms and cell-phones as well. All businesses should implement antiviolence programs and provide training for workers on how to prevent and how to react to violent incidents.
To assist in training workers, employers can obtain downloads and videos on preventing workplace violence from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
OSHA Mississippi Worker Safety
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends several steps to help employers and employees in Mississippi–and in all other states–protect themselves against violence in the workplace. These steps can also help prevent threats and acts of violence, which are a major concern for OSHA.
Employers should establish safety programs that include antiviolence procedures. These procedures should include training for employees to understand what constitutes threats of violence and how to report the incidents. Workers should practice these procedures and know how to recognize, avoid and even diffuse potentially violent situations.
Security and maintenance issues can pose a threat to the workplace. A broken lock on a secure door, a stolen I. D. badge, or a broken window can all be threats to security. These problems should be reported immediately–and remedied immediately.
Odd behavior of coworkers can sometimes warn employees of problems to come. Signals of a tendency toward violence can include verbal abuse, threats and minor assaults. Sometimes these situations don’t seem necessarily dangerous, but they should still be reported. Noting a particular worker’s suspicious behavior early can prevent problems later, so all incidents should be reported.
Some simple steps can be taken by employees to help prevent violence in the workplace. Workers who deal with the public, or work out in the community should be careful not to carry a lot of cash, or wear expensive items. Also, employees should never enter a new location or scenario alone, especially at night.
When violence occurs, the victim should receive medical attention. Also, the police need to be informed and the victim advised of his or her right to press charges against the perpetrator. Employers should discuss the incident with all of the staff to help ease concerns and to help prevent future attacks. Counseling and stress debriefing should also be offered to all workers.
OSHA’s General Duty Clause demands that employers provide a safe and healthy workplace, and requires them to keep a record of every violent incident by type. Failure to comply with OSHA regulations will open employers to severe penalties.
Every employer, in Mississippi and nationwide, should be aware of important changes to the federal FMLA regulations.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides workers with up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to care for a family member with a “serious medical condition”, or to care for their own “serious medical condition.” Employers can require medical certification of the condition from the employee’s physician, and can even request second and third opinions. The additional opinions, however, are paid for by the employer.
Recently, changes were proposed to the FMLA to streamline the certification process.
Currently, employers can request recertification of a “serious medical condition” only if a worker takes more than 30 days of FMLA, and when a time limit is imposed by the physician on the condition. To illustrate, consider John who undergoes surgery. He takes more than a month off, and still doesn’t return to work. Or Cassandra breaks her leg and the physician certifies a limit of 8 weeks, but Cassandra doesn’t return to work at that time. Employers can request a recertification in both of these scenarios.
Under the new regulations, though, employers will be able to request recertification of an ongoing “serious medical condition” at least once every 6 months.
The U. S. Department of Labor uses the word “request”, but in reality if an employee refuses to comply, the employer can legally deny the FMLA leave.
When a physician provides medical certification, the employer can not inquire about anything other than what’s provided in the certification notice. The U. S. Department of Labor provides an optional form this purpose, WH-380, which allows the healthcare provider to detail the diagnoses of “serious medical condition” if he or she wishes. Whatever information is provided to the employer, both the employer and the physician must follow HIPAA’s regulations for medical privacy.
The new FMLA regulations also include a formal provision for companies to have ongoing conditions recertified once a year. For instance, Jane has asthma and periodically needs to take unscheduled FMLA leave. Her company can require her to provide annual recertification of her condition.
More Mississippi FMLA Changes
Current federal laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibit discrimination based on sex, color, gender, national origin or race. Pregnancy, disability and age (over 40) are protected under additional federal laws.
These laws apply to any policy relating to employment. For instance, current FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) regulations allow employers to require “fitness-for-duty” certification for employees returning from FMLA leave. If a company requires an employee with a “serious health condition” to provide certification, it must do so for all employees with a “serious health condition.” Conversely, if an employer doesn’t demand a “fitness-for-duty” certification from a worker returning from adopting a child, that employer can not require certification from any other worker who takes FMLA to adopt a child.
The U. S. Department of Labor recently proposed changes to the FMLA regulations, including two amendments to the “fitness-for-duty” certification process.
Under the new regulations, employers can request that a “fitness-for-duty” certification focus on the worker’s essential job functions. For example, Max works for a moving company and strains his back. Before returning from FMLA leave, his company can require a “fitness-for-duty” certification to ensure he’s physically able to lift and move heavy objects.
The second update pertains to intermittent FMLA leave, and may reduce abuse of FMLA leave by employees. Workers who periodically take FMLA leave can be required to present a “fitness-for-duty” certification every time they return to work. For instance, Judy drives a courtesy hotel shuttle and suffers from migraines which disrupt her vision. When she returns from leave, the business can request certification to ensure her vision is back to normal, because proper vision is a safety issue for drivers.
An employer can not, however, require fitness certification for a situation that doesn’t constitute a safety concern. Victoria is pregnant and struggles with severe morning sickness, a condition certified by her physician. When she takes FMLA leave, her employer can not require a “fitness-for-duty” certification when she returns, because her condition isn’t a safety issue.
Much of the Southeast is in the deep freeze this week, and Mississippi is no exception. That’s why OSHA has renewed warnings about the dangers of working in cold temperatures.
While cold weather work can be hazardous to anyone, it’s especially dangerous to construction workers, utility workers, emergency responders and others who must be outdoors.
A messy mix of snow, sleet and rain pummeled the Southeast over the weekend, resulting in up to 5 inches of accumulated snow. While schools and many businesses closed, others remain open. That’s why it’s so important for employers and workers to keep safety in mind.
The hazards of cold temperatures are greatly magnified when working in windy or wet conditions.
Driving on the job also presents myriad hazards in cold weather. Visibility may be poor, roads are slick and icy, and other drivers may not be as cautious as they should be.
This week’s storm is just the most recent in a series of hazards for Mississippi workers. In early January, severe thunderstorms knocked out power in many areas of Mississippi and Alabama. Several tornado watches or warnings were issued. Buildings and buses were damaged at a school in Caledonia, Mississippi. In Choctaw County, a woman was injured when barns at a large dairy farm were severely damaged by high winds.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) warns employers that outdoor workers face hazards from cold weather now that winter has arrived.
Workers in certain industries are particularly at risk, such as utility workers, construction and road workers, snow removal employees and agricultural workers. Emergency response workers are also at risk for cold weather injuries and illnesses.
Specific conditions that can result from cold weather include frostbite, cold stress, trench foot and hypothermia.
Whenever the weather is windy or wet, in addition to being cold, Mississippi employers must take extra precautions to protect workers from cold stress, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. One important precaution is to always have employees work in pairs. That’s because an employee suffering from cold stress or hypothermia may become disoriented, confused or even irrational. In extreme cases, workers who are dying from the cold will feel too hot and begin tearing off their clothes.
Cold stress is defined as the body being unable to warm itself. Hypothermia, which can result when cold stress isn’t treated, occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees. These conditions can occur in windy, wet conditions, even if the temperature is above freezing.
In fact, hypothermia can occur anytime water drops below body temperature, or 98.6 degrees.
To avoid illness and injury, outdoor employees should work in pairs. They can watch each other for signs of cold stress, which can build up gradually. Symptoms include drowsiness, fatigue, slurred speech, and uncontrolled shivering. The skin can appeal cool, too, and be slightly blue. Irrational behavior, irritability and confusion can also be signs of cold stress.
A worker showing signs of cold stress must get help immediately. After calling emergency services, coworkers or supervisors need to get the employee to somewhere dry and warm. The injured person can be given warm beverages such as warmed sports drinks or sugar water, but no alcohol. Caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee and hot chocolate should be avoided, too, as they can actually inhibit the warming process.
The employee’s wet clothing should be taken off and replaced with dry clothing, if available. Otherwise, remove the wet items and wrap the worker in blankets. If the injured person is able, get him or her to move his arms and legs. This will create body heat. If the person can’t move, place hot packs around the head and neck, under the arms and in the groin area.
Do not put the employee into a hot bath. Warming the body too quickly can cause heart failure.
The dangers of not adhering to the latest federal and Mississippi worker safety forklift standards were recently highlighted in an article in a safety magazine.
Workers and employers are not always aware that when operating forklifts, they need to check that the equipment has not become unstable due to uneven load distribution or modifications to the machine.
The Mississippi OSHA office says that around 1.5 million workers are involved in operating forklifts throughout the United States. They are used extensively in most industries, and are a common cause of injury or even death to workers.
There are basic safety procedures that should be adhered to. Most of them can be found on the forklifts data plate, or the manufacturer’s operating manual, but here is a very basic run down on some common errors.
A forklift may become unstable, even if the load is well within manufactures guidelines. This may be due to the uneven distribution of the load, or the wrong center of gravity measurements. The load should always be evenly distributed between the two forks. The basic center of gravity measurements are as follows:
The center of gravity should not be more than 24 inches higher than the forks.
It should not be more than 24 inches from the base of the forks.
Ensure that the load is evenly balanced between the forks.
Ensure that the load is not placed too far forward on the forks.
When moving a load, keep it as low as possible.
If a forklift has a higher load bearing capacity, the measurements are different. The center of gravity may be 36 inches or 48 inches.
As with all safety regulations regarding the operation of forklifts, the manufacturer’s manual must be adhered to.
If the equipment is modified by adding attachments, this can have an adverse effect on the stability of the machine. If attachments are used to modify a forklift, then the manufacturer must issue their approval, and workers informed accordingly of the change in capacity of the machine. The tags or decals should also be changed.
A Mississippi worker was killed recently when the ATV she was operating flipped over and crushed her.
The accident has prompted a Mississippi Worker Safety alert noting that serious injuries and deaths can follow if workers don’t receive training to use All-Terrain Vehicles and safety measures are not followed.
In the accident, the employer had attached an herbicide sprayer to the rear cargo rack of the ATV. The worker was spraying the herbicide on weeds, driving uphill on rough ground, when the ATV flipped over. She first tried to stabilize the vehicle by standing up, according to local area OSHA office, which investigated the incident. But the ATV flipped. The driver tried to leap clear of the machine, but failed to escape and was crushed by the weight.
According to OSHA, the modifications by the employer made the vehicle unstable, leading to the accident. The spray device was 55 pounds heavier than the manufacturer’s recommended cargo weight, and that changed the weight-distribution, making the machine unstable. Driving uphill contributed to the instability, OSHA said.
Usually thought of as a recreational device, ATVs are being used more frequently in the workplace. But according to the Mississippi Department of Labor and Mississippi OSHA, workers are very often not being trained in their use. With increased work use comes more workplace accidents. More than 100 workers have lost their lives in work-related accidents in the past ten years. OSHA recommends that employers and workers both modify their work practices to help curb serious injuries or deaths. Workers should wear helmets and follow manufacturer recommendations about weight loads. Employees must receive training in operation of the ATV.
Recreational use still causes the greatest number of accidents. In the past 10 years, ATV accidents have claimed more than 100 lives, and there were 800,000 injuries during the past decade.
A recent bulletin describes the guidelines for operation and training when ATVs are used on the job.