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.
Preparing for natural disasters is important, and a recent West Virginia worker safety alert discusses influenza, a hazard many employers haven’t considered. Normally, when we think about natural disasters, we think about hurricanes and floods, and perhaps a fire or power outage. But influenza can pose a real threat to businesses, especially were an influenza pandemic occurs. Employers should have a disaster plan ready in case such a pandemic does occur.
A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease worldwide. When a new strain of the flu virus emerges, it is possible for a pandemic to occur since no one has immunity to the disease. It could spread quickly around the globe.
Past pandemics have resulted in high mortality rates. Near the end of World War I, the Spanish Flu of 1918 killed 50 to 100 million people in only 18 months. A flu pandemic could result in a high number of deaths, plus it also could disrupt the global economy. Industries such as travel, trade, and tourism could be affected. The food supply could be impacted, as could consumer buying. These changes could then impact both the financial and investment markets.
At the moment, no pandemic exists since no new strain of influenza has emerged. But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, feels it’s very important for employers to be prepared. OSHA maintains, “As with any catastrophe, having a contingency plan is essential.”
If a pandemic does occur, employers can help protect the safety and health of their employees. By being prepared, employers can then help prevent or minimize the economic disruptions of the pandemic. For instance, employers should prepare since during a pandemic, it is likely the number of absent employees will be high.
Moreover, disruptions can be expected to the supply chain, which means that deliveries of products may not occur. The pattern of commerce may change. Certain businesses, such as grocery stores, may be very busy as consumers try to buy supplies.
Employees working in the State of West Virginia can check with his or her employer to see if they are covered by the West Virginia Mileage Reimbursement Law. Under this law, employers give their employees monetary compensation for using their own personal car or vehicle for work related travel. This is a great resource for anyone that must use his or her own car for work.
During my research, I found that not all businesses give their employees this compensation. If you are asked to use your car for work related travel and activities on a regular basis, you employer should have already discussed mileage compensation with you. Even if you do not use your car on a regular basis, but are asked to make a long trip for work, your employer might give you prior approval to claim this compensation.
Currently, the IRS has set the standard mileage reimbursement rate at 48.5 cents per mile. Under normal circumstances, the IRS only increases this rate once a year. However, with the rising cost of gas and oil due to Hurricane Katrina and the crisis in the Middle East, the IRS did approve a rate increase in the middle of the year. The IRS believes that employers should allow their workers to receive compensation for the miles they drive in their own car.
The amount you will get under the West Virginia Mileage Reimbursement may vary from employer to employer. Some may require that you keep close calculations on how many miles you drive. You might have to deduct miles for going to personal places such as home or to lunch. Other employers might give you a lump sum for miles per month or year. If you have any questions about the amount of compensation you get in West Virginia, you should speak to your employer for more information.