Although homicide in the workplace is decreasing, it’s still important to prevent workplace violence in Vermont and nationwide.
In the early 1990s, over 200 people were murdered in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number dropped to 94 in 2006. Violence in the workplace in Vermont and across the nation is a concern for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), particularly homicides. Though the number of people killed has dropped over the years, it is still a major factor.
OSHA urges all employers to establish a policy of zero tolerance toward violence on the job. Safety programs and violence prevention programs should be set up and provided in writing to all employees. Workers should also understand how to prevent violence, and how to react in violent scenarios.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides videos and downloads on preventing workplace violence.
The statistics regarding workplace violence are staggering. Over 2 million Americans are victimized every year. All occupations and social levels are included. Blue collar workers and professionals are each as likely to be involved.
To help prevent workplace violence, OSHA recommends that all companies install video surveillance, alarm systems and extra lighting. All workers should be issued an I. D. badge to limit access, along with cell phones and hand-held alarms. For those workers handling a lot of cash, especially at night, companies should provide a drop safe.
Several occupations, simply due to the nature of the job, are at an increased risk for workplace violence. Included in this group are workers with extensive public contact, such as employees dealing with the public regarding money, or healthcare or social services. Workers who deliver packages, goods and services are at higher risk. Utility workers (i.e. phone, gas, water and cable), cab drivers, postal carriers, cab drivers psychiatric evaluators and visiting nurses are also at greater risk.
For their safety, all employees who work away from an office should provide their employer with their work plan, and check in during the day. Plus, companies should have a policy where a worker clearly facing a dangerous situation can refuse that situation.
OSHA Vermont Worker Safety
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause, all Vermont employers (and employers across the country) are required to provide a workplace that is safe and healthy. While it isn’t possible to prevent all accidents, there are several steps employees and employers can take to abate the risk to workers.
First, the employer needs to establish a procedure for handling any incidents of violence related to the job. All workers should be informed of this procedure in writing (usually via the employee handbook) and should be required to practice it, just as they would practice any other safety drill.
One of the goals of this procedure is to train employees how to recognize, avoid or diffuse potentially violent situations. Another goal is to explain the process for reporting these incidents. In many cases of violence, incidents have occurred previously that serve at warnings, such as verbal abuse, destroying property, threats to other workers and minor assaults.
Employees on travel or away from the office can take preventative steps as well.
A worker out in public should carry required identification and only minimal amounts of cash. Employees traveling alone to a new location or scenario should never do so in the middle of the night. All workers out in the community should refrain from wearing expensive items, particularly jewelry.
Safety from violence doesn’t just include behaviors, but also the security of the physical workplace. Simple things like a door with a broken lock, or a cracked window are just as important to report to a supervisor as a coworker behaving suspiciously.
Employers are required to keep track of all violent incidents by type and to immediately correct them. When a violent incident occurs, workers should report the offense immediately, get the victim first aid and medical treatment, advise the police of the incident, inform victims of the right to prosecute, offer counseling to all workers, and discuss how to prevent similar attacks.
Failure of an employer to address hazards in the workplace can result in severe penalties from OSHA.
It is especially important that employers update their 2008 Vermont labor law posters. Each year brings a number of changes to the state labor laws, and this year certainly had more than its share.
The updated list of 2008 Vermont labor law posters is:
- Unemployment Insurance
- Minimum Wage
- Clean Indoor Air Quality Act
- Employers’ Reinstatement Liability
- Workers’ Compensation
- OSHA – Health and Safety Protection
- Sexual Harassment
- Parental and Family Leave Act
- Child Labor
Employers are required to display each of these posters in a prominent location where they can be viewed by both employees and applicants.
In addition, all employers must display updated federal labor law posters including:
- USERRA – Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law
- Federal Minimum Wage
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- OSHA-Job Safety & Health Protection
Labor law poster serve as a handy reminder for supervisors and employees alike.
They provide important information on the minimum wage, worker safety, medical leave and child labor laws.
Under both federal and state law, these posters must be updated each time there is a change in legislation.
A change in the federal minimum wage on July 24, 2007 required that the Federal Minimum Wage posters be updated. On that date, the federal minimum wage increased for the first time in more than a decade. The rate went from $5.15 per hour to $5.85 per hour, an increase of 70 cents.
From state to state, there is a wide range of overtime laws and rules governing the minimum wage for employees who receive tips. That’s why each state requires a different set of labor law posters.
Federal law requires an overtime rate of 1.5 times the usual hourly rate for each hour over 40 (called “time-and-a-half”). Some states have no overtime provision of their own so they follow the federal law – Delaware, Arizona, Idaho, Georgia, and Florida among them. Nebraska mirrors the federal regulations but extends them to all businesses with 4 or more workers. Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts and Nebraska also begin overtime after a 40-hour week. Kansas starts it at 46 hours and Minnesota at 48.
In California, workers are entitled to overtime after working 8 hours in a single day and 40 hours in a week.
The minimum wage for tipped employees varies broadly from one state to the next. So do the overtime laws. These are just some of the items that are covered on each state’s respective labor law posters. Here are a few outstanding examples.
Minimum wage laws for tipped workers like servers often simply follow the federal rate of $2.13 an hour. The idea is that employers need not pay the usual minimum wage because the workers are making up the difference in tips. This is the “tip credit” for employers.
Kentucky, Indiana, Nebraska, and other states follow the federal rate.
Some states offer just a little more than the federal rate:
- North Carolina, $2.43
- Wisconsin, $2.33
- Massachusetts, $2.63
- Michigan, $2.65
The minimum wage for tipped employees in Kansas is only $1.59.
At the opposite extreme, some states offer little or no tip credit. In these states, employees are paid the same minimum wage, or nearly the same minimum wage, as other workers. They include:
- Washington, none ($8.07 per hour wage starting January 1)
- Colorado, wage for tipped workers $8.07 per hour in 2008
- Hawaii, 25-cent tip credit, wage $7 per hour compared to usual $7.25
Some states allow employers very little tip credit. In other words, tipped workers get larger minimum wages – sometimes very close to the wages of workers who do not receive tips.
Concern for Vermont worker safety is at the heart of a new warning issued recently. The Mine Safety and Health Administration, part of the US Department of Labor, wants everyone to know that mines can be dangerous. A new public safety campaign warns the public to “Stay Out — Stay Alive.” This campaign aims to educate workers and recreational enthusiasts that trespassing on mine property can be dangerous.
Sadly, since 1999, over 200 people have died in accidents related to mines. Those accidents often involved outdoor enthusiasts and children. Abandoned and active mines alike pose a threat. Children will sometimes sneak onto mine property to play. In other cases, workers from industries not related to mining have fallen into mine shafts or in some other way experienced an accident on mine property.
According to Richard E. Stickler, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, “There are about 500,000 abandoned mines and another 14,000 active operations throughout the United States. Many of them contain hidden hazards and, for those not trained to work in mines, the outcome can be deadly. That’s why we urge workers, hikers, bikers, rock hounds and swimmers to ‘Stay Out — Stay Alive.’”
Consider the numbers. In 2006 alone, mine-related accidents claimed the lives of at least 30 people. These individuals ranged in age from 17 to 51 and were all killed in underground or surface mine operations. The “Stay Out — Stay Alive” campaign involves state and federal agencies, along with businesses, private organizations, and individuals. This is the ninth year this campaign has been used to raise public awareness of the dangers.
To get the message out, the program warns against the hazards posed by trespassing on mine property. This message is conveyed via public service announcements. In addition, health workers and mine safety professionals from the federal government will talk to scouting groups, schools, and other organizations so that young people learn that mines can be dangerous.
Reports received by OSHA show that workers have lost their control over the chainsaw whenever the plastic handle broke during heavy use. It has injured some workers with severe bruises and some with wrist sprains and burns in the fingers.
According to the Vermont worker safety alert, two types of chainsaws that are popularly used in many industries are affected. They are the brands of Troy-Bilt and Craftsman chainsaws being powered by a two-cycle gasoline engine ranging in size from 46cc to 55cc. Their cutting blades have length of either 18 or 20 inches.
It was the Vermont OSHA office that issued a warning recently on these two brands of chainsaw that are widely used in industry.
OSHA works along with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to take necessary steps required in this aspect. The CPSC’s main aim is to protect the consumers from unknown and unreasonable risks caused by more than 15,000 varieties of consumer product incidents which come under its jurisdiction. $700 billion per annum is the estimated cost towards the damage caused to property by these products. The CPSC works towards the protection of the safety of workers and consumers from the mechanical, the chemical or the electrical hazards posed by the products.
The OSHA agency insists that every employer must be aware of the dangerous hazards created by the chainsaws. It emphasizes that the workers must stop using these products immediately.
The two brands of the chainsaws have already been voluntarily recalled by the manufacturers in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and OSHA. The employers must take action to remove the chainsaws from the workplace in order to ensure their workers’ safety. Proper measures must be taken to equip the chainsaws with additional safety kits. The information on the same can be obtained either from the manufacturers or the OSHA.
Auto mechanics can suffer all of the hazards of working with asbestos that other workers do, including lung cancer, asbestosis, and the rare cancer mesothelioma.
The problem is that the brakes and clutches in many older cars and trucks contain asbestos There’s no way to know in advance, however, which ones contain the material, so every car or truck’s clutch or brake shoe must be dealt with as if asbestos were present. A mechanic who handles an asbestos-laden brake or clutch improperly is exposing everyone in the auto repair shop to dangerous asbestos levels.
A new Vermont Worker Safety advisory addresses the daily dangers of asbestos to mechanics and others, and focuses on the hazards of the material in the brakes and clutches of older cars and trucks.
Some 10,000 people die every year in the U.S. because of illnesses related to asbestos inhalation. When it’s handled wrongly, asbestos crumbles into miniscule, invisible particles. The particles, airborne, are then readily inhaled. The results of asbestos inhalation can be long lasting and serious.
What are the risks of asbestos?
Asbestosis, for one. It is an inflammatory disease, causing severe shortness of breath and greater risk of developing various lung cancers. A chronic disease, it tends to occur in the mining industry, where workers are exposed to heavy amounts of asbestos over a long period of time.
Mesothelioma is another. This rare form of cancer is showing up in aging workers who were once exposed to asbestos. Cancer may start in the mesothelium, or protective lining of internal organs. It may also show up in the linings covering the heart and abdomen – called the pericardium or peritoneum. Most cases of mesothelioma are found in people who were exposed to asbestos in the form of dust or fiber.
The families of workers exposed to asbestos are also at risk because washing the asbestos-laden clothing is also a danger.
Other illnesses as a result of asbestos are lung cancer and gastrointestinal cancer.
Asbestos is a fire-retardant, which has been used industrially for hundreds of years.