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.
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.
The existence of asbestos in the brakes and clutches of many older vehicles is a risk for workers, warns a recent Texas worker safety alert. Brakes and clutches of older cars that may contain asbestos represent a health risk for mechanics and others workers in the auto repair industry.
The worker safety alert challenges the popular belief that asbestos hazards have been eliminated for American workers. Every employer must establish written asbestos-handling procedures, and train workers to minimize asbestos risks. The employer is also responsible for ensuring that employees follow the procedures. Any employer who fails to follow these guidelines is committing a serious violation of OSHA regulations.
Are asbestos still a risk in the workplace? Many people think that asbestos hazards are a thing of the past. Almost all buildings have had the asbestos removed, and new cars contain no parts that include asbestos. Still, the recent OSHA alert points out that many older cars and trucks do contain parts with asbestos. The hazardous mineral is frequently a component in brakes and clutches. When mechanics work on brake or clutch systems, they are often exposed to toxic levels of this banned chemical compound.
Asbestos poses a risk because when the material is handled, it disintegrates into tiny fibers too small to see with the naked eye. The fibers are inhaled, where they remain in the lungs causing damage for many years. Every year, about 10,000 people die of asbestos-related diseases. Common asbestos-related illnesses are asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and gastrointestinal cancer. Many of these diseases develop decades after exposure to asbestos.
Here’s the good news: the newest cars are 100% free of asbestos. However, it’s almost impossible to know if an older car contains parts with the hazardous material. OSHA advises mechanics to handle every brake and clutch part as if it did contain asbestos, just to be on the safe side.
Two common safety techniques limit workers’ exposure to asbestos. These include storing parts that may contain asbestos in sealed and labeled bags. Wetting the asbestos is also an effective measure to control the spread of particles.
Here are several dramatic stories about Texas worker safety.
If you have any doubt that OSHA saves lives, here’s proof. In a dramatic rescue, Worker Safety Inspector Robert Dickinson shouted, “Get out of the trench” to a worker in El Paso, Texas. Dickinson’s boss had noticed the unsloped, unsafe trench on the side of the road while driving. He dispatched Dickinson and Elias Casillas to conduct an inspection. Just 30 seconds after the employee got out, the trench walls collapsed. Had the worker remained in the trench, he would likely have been seriously injured or even killed.
Here’s another incident in the Texas worker safety file. In Houston, on August 8, two window washers were suspended from an 11-story building at Greenway Plaza when their scaffold broke, leaving them dangling high above the ground. Fortunately, both men were hooked to the proper safety equipment. They remained aloft, dangling by their harnesses, until rescued by firefighters. If the two men had tied their safety harness to the scaffold – a common OSHA violation – they would surely have been killed. Instead, their separate safety equipment kept them safe.
OSHA safety precautions do pay off. Last September, a worker at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin slipped from a steel beam six stories above the ground. The employee of National Riggers and Erectors, in Michigan, was wearing full safety protection including a fall harness. A fall from such a height is almost always fatal, but this worker didn’t suffer a scratch. He was back at work shortly after being rescued. Less than 2 months later, on the same project, a second worker slipped from a beam. He, too, was saved by his safety protection equipment. OSHA regulations for the project required 100% use of fall protection above a height of 6 ft. Strict enforcement by OSHA likely saved these two worker’s lives.