Workplace violence makes tragically frequent appearances in the news. What can be done to prevent it and respond to it?
The safety of every worker cannot be guaranteed, of course, but there are steps recommended by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that can help employers and employees reduce the danger.
From the visiting nurse to the taxi driver, and from the cable TV installer to the psychiatric evaluator, no professional or blue-collar worker is immune from violence on the job.
Both violence and the threat of violence are a concern of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Homicide is a major cause of death in the workplace, throughout the U.S and in West Virginia.
In excess of 2 million people annually are targets of workplace violence nationwide. In 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 94 murders occurred in the workplace. While that is down from the more than 200 yearly in the early 1990s, it remains a significant issue.
Workplace violence runs the gamut from verbal abuse through threats and assaults, to homicide, and may happen on the work site or off it.
Information through downloads and streaming videos addressing the issue of preventing workplace violence can be gotten from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
A zero-tolerance policy against workplace violence is the best preventive measure, according to OSHA. A separate violence prevention plan can be developed, or it can be integrated into the company’s current safety program. Employees should understand the policy. The best way is through including the information in workers’ handbooks and manuals.
OSHA encourages employers to take certain preventive measures:
- Give staff cell phones and hand-held alarms.
- Install video surveillance, alarms, and lighting.
- Keep a drop safe available to cut back on the amount of on-hand cash, particularly in the early morning and late night hours.
- Control access to the workplace with guards, I.D. badges, and electronic keys.
- Insure that outside sales people and others who work away from the office file a work plan and keep employers informed of their location.
- Provide escorts to workers who are uncomfortable leaving the building at night.
In general, employees who work in high crime areas and those who work alone or in small groups on late night or early morning shifts are at risk. So are those who exchange money with the public, and those who deliver services, goods, and passengers.
OSHA West Virginia Worker Safety
Personal safety training programs should be developed to enable workers to spot, defuse, or avoid potential violence. Employees should report a threat immediately, even if the threat does not seem serious. Employers for their part should take every one of those threats seriously.
All violent episodes in the workplace, no matter how “trivial” they may appear, should be inquired into and scrutinized. The employee who punches another worker in the arm today may bring a gun to work and shoot a coworker tomorrow. Examples of warning signs may be threats, rage, property destruction, minor assaults and verbal abuse.
Accurate and detailed records of every incident, by type, should be kept. Employers should take corrective measures.
Sometimes, however, violent incidents will occur. In those cases, there are steps that should be taken.
Report the incident to police without delay. Provide medical help and first aid quickly, wherever possible. Tell the victims about their right to take legal action against the person who perpetrated the violence. Talk about the details of the incident with staffers. Urge them to develop and share plans and ideas for preventing another outbreak in the future. Insure that everyone is offered counseling or stress debriefing.
All employers would be wise to develop a procedure for responding to violence in the workplace. Once such a procedure is in place, it should be practiced, not unlike the way fire drills are regularly practiced.
Employers are obligated, under the OSHA General Duty Clause, to assure a “safe and healthful” workplace. Needless to say, this refers to workplace violence as well as other safety hazards, and involves taking steps to prevent or limit the hazard of such violence. Failure to do so could result in heavy penalties.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a West Virginia alert about work safety in damp, cold weather, and the dangers of cold stress and trench foot.
Cold stress, simply, is the body’s failure to keep warm. Trench foot, a distinct threat to workers, causes itching, burning, and blisters. It is much like, but not as bad as, frostbite. Trench foot gets its name from World War I, when soldiers’ feet were sunk in the cold water that had collected in the trenches for long stretches of time.
Employers should know that dressing appropriately and taking breaks in warm areas frequently will help combat cold stress. Staying dry is a key factor, because contact with cold water will make it difficult for the body to maintain a normal temperature. Workers should cover their extremities and wear close-fitting layers.
For mild forms of cold stress, which are relatively easily treated, the employee should be moved to a warm area and should remain active, according to OSHA. It is bet to drink warm fluids (but not caffeine, which will slow the body’s warming process) to boost the metabolism and the body’s inner temperature. Avoid alcohol.
If an employee is suffering from cold stress, remove him or her to a warm area and supply clothing and a warm drink. In serious cases, call an ambulance. That way medical professionals can provide help.
It is important to remember that wind chill turns supposedly moderate or mild temperatures into dangerous conditions. As is commonly known, “wind child” is the phrase for the combination of air temperature and wind speed. The stronger the wind speed, the colder the wind chill will be. Regardless of what it says on the thermometer, skin will react to the temperature resulting from wind chill
Workers and employers alike should realize that in cold weather, just as in extremely hot temperatures, employees should team up. Working in pairs allows each to watch the other carefully for signs of cold stress.
West Virginia Cold OSHA
Employees need to be protected against dangers of cold temperatures like frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot.
OSHA has a series of measures involving appropriate clothing and safe practices, all common-sense steps in the face of extreme cold.
Safe work practices include using radiant heaters to keep work areas warm. Temporary shelters that surround a worksite outdoors and cut drafts and wind is also a safe practice. Use insulating material to cover metal handles on equipment, particularly when temperatures are below 30 degrees.
Urge workers to drink liquids, but avoid smoking, caffeine and alcohol, which can reduce the body’s capability for warming itself. Encourage them to eat warm food that is calorie-rich, such as pasta.
Schedule outside work for the warmest part of the day, when possible. Have employees take breaks frequently in a heated vehicle or shelter. Employees should work in pairs and watch each other for the typical signals of cold stress such as irrational behavior, disorientation, or confusion. Train workers to look for these signs. Allow workers to take breaks if they become extremely uncomfortable as a result of the cold, and schedule more breaks than normal. Workers should keep in mind that certain prescription drugs also reduce the body’s cold-handling capacity.
Appropriate clothing is the other factor. Cold-weather gear is often supplied to w employees who work outdoors or in freezers for long periods. OSHA recommends 3 layers of clothing. A nylon or Gortex outer layer will cut the wind. A middle layer consisting of down or wool provides insulation and absorbs sweat, even when it is wet. Finally, an inner layer of synthetics or cotton provides ventilation.
OSHA’s other clothing recommendations include wearing a hat, because as much as 40 degrees of body heat can be lost if the head is exposed. Insulated boots or footwear should be worn, and in wet areas, waterproof footwear is recommended. Dry clothes should be available in a warm location if work clothing becomes wet. Loose clothing offers improved insulation and ventilation.
Cotton ceases to insulate when wet, but wool continues to hold insulation even if it is soaked.
By law, West Virginia employers must display a 2008 OSHA 300 form from February 1 to April 30. OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is in charge of setting and regulating standards regarding safety in the workplace.
One of OSHA’s mandatory regulations is the posting of OSHA 300 form. This form must be displayed from February 1 to April 30 of each year. That means that West Virginia employers should be working on their 2008 West Virginia OSHA 300 forms right now.
The OSHA 300 form provides companies and its employees with a recap of the previous year’s work-related accidents and illnesses, and the specific cause for each of these events.
The 2008 West Virginia OSHA 300 form will contain all such events from 2007 for a particular company. This form gives workers a picture of their company’s status regarding safety in the workplace, and also gives employers a picture of problem areas. The company can then devise a plan for addressing those problems during the coming year.
Displaying the OSHA 300 form is mandatory for all employers. The poster doesn’t need to be accessible to the public, but must be easily reached by all workers. The most popular spots for these posters are the employee break room and the area near the time clocks. Any company which does not post the OSHA 300, or doesn’t keep the form up for the entire allotted time is breaking regulations.
OSHA does not tolerate non-compliance. Any business caught not displaying the proper posters will be subject to fines.
OSHA works hard to help employers prevent accidents and illnesses in the workplace. According to sources at the federal agency, “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.”
OSHA also helps employers by providing free on-site evaluations. These evaluations help the companies spot and repair potential hazards within the workplace.
To help prevent accidents in the workplace, employers need to ensure that all workers take proper safety precautions and follow all safety procedures. Monitoring workplace accidents and illnesses is the charge of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), a federal agency.
States can establish their own agency for workplace health and safety, but they must be approved by the federal government. The state level agency must also be as least as effective as the federal OSHA. The process to set up a state agency begins with a developmental plan and ends with certification. To obtain certification, the state must provide assurance to the federal government that it will be able to run its agency efficiently within three years.
Twenty-two states have elected to set up their own agency. Regulations mandate that the state agency be as effective as the federal program. Most state agencies, like Washington Occupational Safety and Health Administration (WOSHA), mirror the federal OSHA program. For instance, WOSHA conducts its own safety inspections. It also provides programs to train employers in occupational safety and health. Also like OSHA, Washington’s agency does on-site evaluations. These evaluations help employers find and fix hazards in the workplace, and are provided free of charge.
A few state agencies enact regulations that take the federal guidelines one step further. For example, California posts workplace hazards that the federal regulations require, but they also post additional workplace hazards.
Whether a company is covered by a state agency or the federal OSHA, that company must post an OSHA 300 form. The form must be displayed from February 1 to April 30 every year. The OSHA 300 is a tracking system for workplace accidents and illnesses, giving employees a picture of their company’s safety and heath record.
One of OSHA’s major goals is preventing workplace accidents. The agency urges all employers to educate their employees on the importance of health and safety on the job.
Every West Virginia employer should update their labor law posters before the first day of the new year.
The 2008 West Virginia labor law posters contain some important changes.
In 2008, by state law, every West Virginia employer is required to display the following posters:
- Workers’ Compensation
- Unemployment Insurance
- Wage Payment and Collection
- Discrimination Notice
- Minimum Wage
Popular locations for posters include break rooms, beside the employee time clock or in other employees-only areas.
In addition, West Virginia employers are required to display a number of 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
Many of the labor law changes in 2007 concerned the minimum wage. For the past two years, the Oregon minimum wage has been the second highest in the nation. In 2008, it will go to the fourth highest, when California and Massachusetts increase their state rates from $7.50 per hour to $8.00 per hour. This is just one of the changes that will be reflected in the new labor law posters for the year.
Oregon labor law posters serve as a handy reference on a wide range of topics, from unemployment benefits to child labor laws.
Labor law posters provide important information for employees and supervisors alike. For example, from state to state, the laws controlling minimum wage for tipped workers and overtime pay show a wide variation. Complete updates are available on each state’s labor law posters.
States either have no overtime law, in which case they follow the federal law, or they pass laws building on or mirroring the federal law.
Federal overtime laws require an overtime premium of 1.5 times the normal hourly rate for every hour over 40. Some states rely on federal law – Florida, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, and Arizona among them. The federal overtime law covers most, but not all, workers.
Nebraska extends both the federal minimum wage and overtime laws to all businesses with 4 or more workers. Kansas requires overtime after a 46-hour week and Minnesota after a 48-hour week.
California offers overtime after working 8 hours in a single day or 40 hours in a week. Employees who must work 7 days consecutively get overtime on the 7th day, and those working 12 or more hours in a day receive “double time.” Double-time is also offered after 8 hours on the 7th consecutive working day.
In Kentucky, workers get overtime either after 40 hours, or on the 7th consecutive day of work regardless of the number of hours they have put in. Colorado workers get overtime after 12 hours a day or 40 hours in a week. In Connecticut, only restaurant and hotel workers get overtime on the 7th day.
When it comes to minimum wage rates for tipped workers, some states don’t have their own laws, so they are automatically covered by the federal law. Some are slightly more generous, while others equal or are nearly equal to the states’ own minimum wages. Kansas, on the other hand, at $1.59 an hour, is the lowest.
The federal rate is $2.13 an hour. Nebraska, Kentucky, and Indiana follow the federal rate. Michigan’s on the other hand is $2.65. Massachusetts is $2.63, Wisconsin is $2.33, and North Carolina is $2.43.
But there is no “tip credit” for employers in Washington State. In other words, tipped workers’ minimum wage is the same as for other workers. It will be $8.07 an hour starting January 1. In Hawaii, it’s just 25 cents an hour below the usual minimum wage. Tipped workers get $7 an hour, while other workers get $7.25. Colorado’s rate in 2008 will be $4.02 an hour.
Veterans returning from military service to the work world have a series of protections that guarantee their old jobs back, with all of the seniority, pay increases, and other benefits they would have received if they had never left.
All of the guarantees fall under USERRA, short for the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.
West Virginia USERRA posters should be updated at all workplaces to reflect the final USERRA regulations, issued by the U.S. Department of Labor, whether or not those workplaces employ service personnel. The latest regulations involve pension plan rights for returning veterans. USERRA in general is meant to protect the returning veteran and guarantee enforcement. It applies to National Guard and Reserve members as well.
All of the rights can be described under what is called the “escalator principle,” which essentially says that employees returning from military service are entitled to be reemployed with all the seniority, status and pay increases that would have come to them had they never left.
To understand the principle, imagine an escalator. An employee’s job position, with its continuing increases in pay, seniority, and other benefits, is like a step on the escalator. If that employee must leave the escalator to serve in the military, he or she is entitled to return to the same step – even though that step has advanced upward during the period of absence.
These rights are guaranteed for veterans returning after absences of up to 5 years. Some injured veterans are covered for another 2 years.
A military leave is treated under this law like other leaves of absence. The worker serving in the military is guaranteed the same benefits awarded to those, for example, who are on temporary disability or maternity leave.
Rights to retraining are guaranteed. Often, during a long military absence, the skills of a job evolve in a changing marketplace. According to the USERRA, employers must retrain returning veterans so that their skills qualify them for reemployment. If that is not possible, the employee is entitled to reemployment in another position.