Employers must take measures against workplace violence, as several incidents in 2007 and 2008 demonstrate.
Key elements are training managers and employees to know how to respond to an episode, taking precautions to prevent violence in the first place, and having an emergency plan ready.
In October 5, a retired Alexandria, Louisiana city maintenance worker, John Ashley, 63, was shot and killed by police after a 10-hour standoff with police at a downtown legal office.
Two of Ashley’s 5 victims died, police said. The gunman kept police at bay until officers used explosives to enter the building and kill him. The dead were a postal worker who was delivering mail to the law firm at the time and was killed by Ashley. The other was Joey Giordano, the son of attorney Camille Giordano, Camille Giordano, attorney Sam Giordano, and legal secretary Andrea Fletcher Price were all injured.
The campus of Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb, Illinois, was the site of a notorious shooting on February 14 of 2008. Steven Kazmierczak killed 6 people and injured 16 before shooting himself. The man was a former NIU graduate student in Criminal Justice who had transferred to the University of Illinois and Champaign Urbana to study social work. He was described as a calm, committed, award-winning student.
A gunman killed 3 city officials and 2 police officers on February 7 at a council meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri, after opening fire. The man also injured the mayor of Kirkwood. The gunman was described as a political activist who had been forcibly ejected from 2 previous council meetings.
In a mall in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, a robber killed 5 women during a robbery attempt at a Lane Bryant store. Two of the victims were customers who had walked in on the robbery. The man pretended to be making a delivery, then bound 6 women with duct tape in a back room. When the store manager called 911 the robber became angry and opened fire on all 6 victims, killing 5. Police arrived within a minute, but the robber had fled.
More Workplace Violence
Recent incidents of workplace violence in Illinois and Missouri are the two most recent episodes. Several attacks took place in 2007 as well.
At the Denny’s restaurant on International Drive over Labor Day weekend of 2007, a 40-year-old waitress died of stab wounds inflicted by her estranged husband. Several families were leaving Walt Disney World at the time and witnessed the incident. Both coworkers and customers chased the man, who escaped over a fence, leaving a shoe behind.
The Virginia Tech episode left 32 students and staff dead and 17 more wounded, in the worst case of workplace violence in 2007. The April 16, 2007 tragedy occurred when a young man chained the doors of a campus building shut and began shooting. The young man, Seung-Hui Cho, turned his weapon on himself when police moved in on him. University officials and police were criticized for their response to the shooting.
OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the shooter had shown several warning signs of workplace violence. He had exhibited fits of rage and was not seeking treatment for his history of mental illness. He developed obsessive crushes on women he barely knew, then engaged in stalker-like behavior and jealousy toward them that was completely out of proportion to events. Cho also had an unhealthy interest in weapons.
Two 17-year-old students were shot to death during a tragic event in September at Delaware State University. Following the shooting the campus was put on lockdown and the 1,700 students on campus were confined to their dormitories. Many of the students were contacted by cell phone about the incident and the lockdown.
At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a man threatened to blow up a nearby hospital and fired several rounds near the building. Police said the bomb threat was false and that he was trying to provoke a shoot-out with officers that would leave him dead.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets and enforces regulations for workplace safety. One of these regulations is the posting of the OSHA form 300.
The OSHA form 300 lists all work-related injuries and illnesses, and their causes, for the previous year. OSHA requires this form to be displayed in a prominent place from February 1 to April 30 of each year. All Texas employers need to be displaying a 2008 OSHA 300 form right now.
The 2008 form will list the injuries and illnesses for 2007. Workers can see how the company is doing with regard to employee safety, and employers can see which type of incidents occur most often and in which areas they occur. This information can then be used to devise a plan for correcting those problems.
OSHA states “Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees. OSHA’s role is to assure the safety and health of America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach, and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health.”
Employers must post the OSHA 300, and must keep it on display for the entire allotted time. If they don’t, they are breaking the law and OSHA does not tolerate non-compliance. Companies that do not properly display the required poster will be subject to fines.
Not every employer is covered by OSHA. Some industries such as mining and transportation have safety requirements that are quite different from most businesses. These industries, therefore, are allowed by federal law to establish their own employee safety organizations. The Department of Transportation regulates transportation and railroads, and includes many rules for safety on the job. For the mining industry, MSHA (Mining Safety and Health Agency) is in charge of setting and enforcing worker safety protocols.
OSHA wants to help companies prevent accidents in the workplace. In addition to offering training and inspections, the agency also conducts on-site evaluations of the workplace. The evaluations are free of charge and help the employer pinpoint problems areas and understand how to correct those problems.
Twenty-two states in the country have established their own agencies for employee safety and health. Those without their own state agencies are covered by the federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). OSHA sets and enforces regulations for workplace safety and health. One of OSHA’s major goals is preventing injuries and illnesses in the workplace and encourages employers to remind workers of the importance of working in a safe and healthy environment.
One way to maintain a safe and healthy work environment is for Texas employees to follow safety procedures and precautions. All companies should take measures to ensure that their workers take these precautions.
Whether governed by a state agency, or by the federal OSHA, employers are required to post an OSHA 300 form. Work-related illnesses and injuries are tracked using OSHA 300, and this record provides employees a benchmark regarding the health and safety of their company. Regulations require companies to post the OSHA 300 every year from February 1 to April 30.
Washington is one of the states that established its own health and safety agency. Washington Occupational Safety and Health Administration (WOSHA) is very similar to the federal OSHA program. Establishing a state agency requires federal approval and certification. First the federal government must approve the agency’s developmental plan. For certification, the federal government must also be assured that the state agency has sufficient funds to be up and running efficiently within 3 years. Lastly, the state agency must be at least as effective as the federal program.
For these reasons, most of the twenty-two state agency programs are like Washington’s and mirror the federal OSHA. For example, WOSHA, like OSHA, conducts its own inspections, offers training programs in occupational safety and health to employers and performs on-site evaluations. As with OSHA, evaluations are provided free of charge to aid businesses in finding and fixing dangers in the workplace.
OSHA recently announced that it will expand a regional refinery safety program to nationwide statues. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA will implement a National Emphasis Program to eliminate highly hazardous chemicals in the petrochemical industry.
This effort is just the latest move in OSHA’s efforts to beef up safety and security in the wake of a number of oil refinery disasters during the past few years. The most notable was the tragic Texas City, Texas explosion. The March 23, 2005 explosion near Houston, Texas killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others. That event alerted OSHA to a number of problems in the refinery process.
Currently, OSHA administers two Regional Emphasis Programs that operate in Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. This nationwide program is the next step in refinery safety. The National Emphasis Program will take the successful regional program nationwide under the auspices of OSHA. The new program will provide guidance to OSHA national, regional and area offices. In addition, the 22 states with a state workers safety program will have access to OSHA directives, regulations and enforcement policies.
The National Emphasis Program focuses on preventing the release of hazardous chemicals by the oil industry. Process Safety Management, or PSM, has been an OSHA priority for many years, and a number of emphasis programs have evolved as a result of this standard. In fact, OSHA has a 104-page manual of standards for this particular hazard, including prevention techniques and inspection procedures.
“OSHA remains committed to enhancing the safety and health of America’s men and women working in the refining industry,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. “By initiating this program, we are taking positive steps to maximize the protection of employees and eliminate workplace hazards at petroleum refineries.”
Under the new program, OSHA will conduct 81 inspections over the next two years at oil refineries throughout the nation. Assistant Secretary Foulke stresses that this new program is just one of multiple significant enforcement projects in the oil, gas and refining industries that OSHA is working on.
The current National Emphasis Program focuses on preventing unexpected releases of toxic, reactive or flammable liquids and gasses. It pinpoints industries that rely on such chemicals, including the petrochemical industry. According to OSHA, there is the potential for such chemicals to be released anytime they are not properly controlled. Such a release can have disastrous effects, as in the Texas City oil refinery explosion.
One important feature of this process was recently defined by OSHA. In a previous publication, OSHA prescribed certain safety measures when a given quantity of a hazardous material was “on site in one location.” This phrasing raised a number of questions for employers. If an employer divided the quantity between two equal stashes at separate ends of the property, were they exempt from the safety measures? If they had two plants within a few miles, did that count as “one location”?
On June 11, 2007 OSHA issued an official ruling to clarify that issue.
“This official interpretation should help provide additional clarity to an earlier Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the threshold quantities of highly hazardous chemicals,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke, Jr. “This interpretation has been accepted by our stakeholders and should further aid those who are affected by the PSM standard.”
OSHA interprets “on site in one location” to mean that the standard applies when a specific amount of a highly hazardous chemical exists within an area under the control of an employer, or group of affiliated employers. It also applies to any group of vessels that are interconnected, or in separate vessels that are close enough in proximity that the HHC could be involved in a potential catastrophic release.
Under this ruling, if an oil company has two stores of a hazardous chemical close enough that they could be involved in the same explosion, they are considered one store under the safety regulations.
The terminology used in this case was so confusing that even OSHA itself had questions. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, OSHA’s enforcement branch, requested the clarification. The Review Commission asked whether the phrase “on site in one location” was meant to limit the application of the safety standards. The Review Commission wondered if two nearby storage tanks that were connected, or in close proximity on the property, should be counted together.
All-Terrain Vehicles are well-known for their recreational uses, but in recent years a number of employers have begun using these small vehicles in the workplace as well. ATVs are ideal for industries such as agriculture and security, since they are able to travel in areas where larger vehicles would have problems, but because they are generally seen as fun vehicles many employers and riders don’t take the time to ensure that they are used in a safe manner. Because of this, a warning has been issued in Texas by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in order to let employers know of the danger that the improper use of ATVs can present.
With employee safety being a priority, the Texas worker safety alert presented a number of guidelines which could be followed to help prevent the increasing number of serious injuries and deaths that result from workplace ATV accidents. These guidelines are designed to better familiarize employers and employees with the differences between ATVs and other vehicles, and to help employers to develop training for their employees which will teach them to properly use the vehicles. Key topics include the proper way to load cargo onto ATVs, how to avoid overloading the cargo racks, ways to avoid ATV roll-overs, and general safety tips such as always wearing a helmet while operating the vehicle.
These training programs and safety guidelines are essential to maintain a safe workplace while using ATVs, as many people are completely unprepared for the differences between these small vehicles and larger vehicles such as forklifts, tractors, and automobiles which the users may be more familiar with.
Many people would never dream of using heavy equipment without taking the proper safety precautions or being properly trained, but because of the ATVs smaller size and its reputation as a recreational vehicle these same people assume that it is perfectly safe to operate untrained.
The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed 25 million people in 25 weeks, or about 2.5% to 5% of the world’s population. Compare that to the death toll of AIDS, which has taken 25 million lives in 25 years. The flu pandemic of 1957 took 1 million lives before being quickly controlled.
Do we face another flu pandemic in the future? There are best-case scenarios that say another pandemic would simply show up as a flu season that would be more severe than usual. Worst-case scenarios suggest social disruption, a tottering global economy, and huge death tolls. It sounds like a movie, but the possibility is real.
A new alert from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends steps to prepare for a workplace threat that most employers and workers alike would not normally perceive as a danger. That’s the danger of flu.
The latest Texas worker safety alert suggests that, while the possibility of a pandemic may sound like fantasy, it’s potentially a real threat. Employers and employees both should prepare for such a threat, according to OSHA.
It can be difficult to see flu as a threat. Most of us associate it with that yearly annoyance they call seasonal flu. Every fall and winter, it seems, we come down with it. While its symptoms are usually irritating, they’re rarely life threatening, except for infants, the elderly, and people with fragile immune systems.
Still, pandemics are a possibility.
Currently, avian influenza is a concern. Known commonly as bird flu, it originates in wild birds. But it can spread to flocks of domestic birds like chickens and turkeys. In a few cases, it has spread from birds to people. It has never spread from person to person yet. That would take a new, mutated strain. If such a strain developed, a pandemic could occur.
It should be pointed out, however, that there are no new strains of flu currently, and no pandemic exists in the world today.