Both 2007 and 2008 have seen several episodes of workplace violence.
The incidents once again point out the necessity for employers to develop strategies for dealing with the problem. Precautions should be taken against such violence by putting an emergency plan in action, taking measures to prevent incidents before they happen, and training both managers and employees in the right ways to respond when violence breaks out.
A gunman began shooting during a city council meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri on February 7. The mayor was wounded and 3 city officials and 2 police officers were killed. The man was described as a political activist who had been removed forcibly from 2 previous city council meetings.
An armed robber killed 5 women on February 2 in a Lane Bryant women’s apparel store in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park. Pretending to make a delivery to the store, the man bound 6 women with duct tape in a back room of the mall shop. Two of the victims were customers who had come in when the robbery was underway.
The store manager made a 911 call. The robber discovered the call, became angry, and opened fire on the 6, killing 5. A nearby police officer arrived at the scene in one minute, but the robber had fled. The single survivor provided officers with a description of the man.
A campus shooting in DeKalb, Illinois, left 6 victims dead and 16 injured on February 14 before the gunman killed himself. Steven Kazmierczak stormed a lecture hall on the campus of Northern Illinois University (NIU) and opened fire. Professors described him as an award-winning student.
A deadly episode occurred on October 5, 2007 in Alexandria, Louisiana.
A 63-year-old retired city maintenance worker entered a downtown legal office and shot 5 people, including a postal worker who was on the scene delivering mail. The postal worker and the son of an attorney died of their injuries. The gunman, John Ashley, was in a standoff with police for 10 hours. They finally used explosives to enter the building and kill him.
More Workplace Violence
From the tragic massacre at Virginia Tech to a shooting at Delaware State University and a stabbing at an Orlando Denny’s Restaurant, 2007 saw several incidents of workplace violence. The two more recent tragic episodes in Illinois and Missouri were simply the most recent.
A tragic event in September left two 17-year-old students dead at Delaware State. The school went on lockdown and the 1,700-member student body was confined to dormitories. Word of both the shooting and the lockdown went out over cell phones.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, along with several other law enforcement agencies, assisted campus police in the search for the shooter. Dover, Delaware police interviewed a student about the shooting later.
The Denny’s death during the Labor Day 2007 weekend occurred when an estranged husband stabbed his wife at the International Drive restaurant. Paramedics’ best efforts could not save the woman, who died of her wounds. While the woman was being brutally attacked, several families who had just come from Walt Disney World observed the incident. Customers and coworkers gave chase. The man escaped over a fence, leaving behind a shoe.
The Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007 left 32 students and staff dead and 17 more injured. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the shooter demonstrated several signs of impending workplace violence. Seung-Hui Cho was not seeking treatment for his mental illness. He exhibited an unhealthy interest in weapons and flew into rages. He also developed unhealthy crushes on women he barely knew, and would engage in behavior similar to stalking. Police and university officials were criticized for their initial lack of response.
The incident at the University of Wisconsin involved a man who threatened to blow up an area hospital and fired several rounds near the building. Police said the bomb threat was false. The man was attempting to provoke a shoot-out with officers that would end in his death, police said.
“It’s a simple case of attempted ‘suicide by cop,’” said one officer at the scene, Burt Bruins.
Employers have a responsibility to establish safety protocols for employees who work in cold temperatures.
OSHA (Occupation Safety and Health Administration) recommends some straightforward steps to help employees avoid cold weather hazards, such as Trench foot and frostbite.
All Wisconsin employees should understand cold weather safety protocols, and be trained to recognize symptoms of cold exposure. Companies can erect temporary shelters for outdoor workers to cut the effects of the wind, and ensure that all metal handles on equipment is covered with insulating material.
Companies should also encourage employees to drink plenty of fluids and eat warm, high calorie meals. Tea and other caffeinated drinks should be avoided, because they impede the body’s ability to warm itself. Other factors can affect body warmth, too, such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. A wise employee is aware of these factors and pays attention to how his or her body reacts to cold weather.
Proper cold weather gear is vital. Companies can provide workers with special cold weather gear, but employees should understand how to dress for the job. What is worn and how it’s worn are both important. OSHA recommends workers wear at least three layers of clothing, keep their head covered and wear insulated footwear.
Of the three layers, cotton should be worn closest to the body to provide ventilation. Wool or down should be the middle layer to absorb sweat and to insulate. Unlike cotton, wool continues to insulate even when wet.
The outer layer should be comprised of nylon or Gortex to cut the wind. Employees should also keep a change of dry clothes in the event their work clothes get soaked.
Working outside in cold temperatures is best done at the warmest part of the day. Breaks should be frequent and in a warm area away from the cold. Employees should also work as pairs and watch each other for signs of exposure, including irrational behavior, confusion and disorientation.
Wisconsin Cold Stress
During the winter months, employees are particularly susceptible to the hazards of cold stress, frostbite and hypothermia in the workplace. Now that country is in the depths of winter, OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, wants to remind employers, including those in Wisconsin, to be aware of these potential hazards.
According to OSHA, these hazards can occur even at temperatures as high as 50 degrees. Wind, rain and cold can all combine to cool the body to the point where it can not warm itself. The result is cold stress. Cold stress is a less severe form of hypothermia, but can in some cases be fatal.
Outdoor workers are more at risk for cold stress, but all employees can be in danger during the winter. All employees should take certain safety measures to help reduce and prevent the hazards of cold stress.
First of all, every worker should dress appropriately for the existing weather conditions. Wearing layers of clothes is a good way to adapt to changes in temperature. Workers should also avoid getting wet, especially when it’s windy.
Secondly, employees should take frequent breaks and go inside to a warm area or into a heated vehicle. If going indoors isn’t possible, then the worker should get out of the wind and drink warm beverages like broth. Meals, too, should be warm and preferably rich in carbohydrates.
Thirdly, people who work outside should avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both reduce the body’s ability to get warm.
Cold weather draws heat away from the body. The colder the temperature, the harder the body works to get warm. The body’s top priorities for heat are the internal organs. To warm the organs, heat is drawn away from the extremities, leaving hands, feet, legs, arms, ears and the nose at greater risk for frostbite.
Older workers and persons on medications can be more susceptible to the hazards of cold weather. Bodies, as they age, tend to become less efficient at staying warm. Medicines such as antidepressants and tranquilizers, along with sedatives, can negatively affect body temperature, too.
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 Wisconsin employers should be displaying their 2008 Wisconsin OSHA 300 forms right now.
The 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 Wisconsin 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, Wisconsin 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 (WISHA), mirror the federal OSHA program. For instance, WISHA 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.
Now is the time to replace your old Wisconsin USERRA poster to ensure that you are displaying up to date and correct information to your employees. There have been some changes and clarifications to the USERRA regulations, with the addition of federal government employees to the list of those able to receive assistance with processing their claims.
The organization responsible for providing assistance to those who claim under the USERRA regulation is the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), which is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor. The final USERRA regulations have recently been released by the Dept. of Labor and it is recommended that all parties affected by them make themselves aware of any changes.
An area that is covered quite extensively is the regulations that refer to the time away from an employee’s civilian job. The regulations state that under the law, if a person is covered by USERRA, they are entitled to return to their civilian job for up to five years, depending upon length of service.
The regulations cover employment rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. Under the regulations a person who serves in the military is entitled to job protection. Those covered by the regulations are veterans, members of the National Guard and Reserve as well as members of the Navy, Army or Air Force reserves.
After recent test cases, some returning members may be entitled to the same employment benefits relating to their job if they had not been away. This can include cost of living pay rises, annual salary increases and promotions that they person would have gained due to time served in the company.
The five year regulation is cumulative, so an employee can be away for a period of, for example, three years, and then two years, and still be entitled to job protection. Training stints with the National Guard or Reserves are not counted towards the five year period.
Improving Wisconsin worker safety should be one side effect of a new public service campaign aimed at making workers aware of the hazards of trespassing on mine property.
When you think of hazards in the workplace, you probably think of vehicle accidents, falls, and construction accidents. While those types of events injure many people, mines also pose a hazard.
Workers from industries unrelated to mining are sometimes injured in mining accidents, and this program should raise awareness of the problem affecting both workers and recreational enthusiasts.
Richard E. Stickler, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, explains, “There are about 500,000 abandoned mines and another 14,000 active operations throughout the United States.” According to Stickler, “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.’”
Both workers and people who love the outdoors may not realize the hazards posed by mines. Many people only associate mine accidents with collapses shown on the news. But most mine accidents aren’t the collapses that are publicized. Instead, the majority of mine accidents happen to outdoor recreation enthusiasts, children, and even workers in industries other than mining.
The numbers tell the story. Since 1999, over 200 people have died due to accidents involving mines. Both active and abandoned mines are a hazard. Sadly, sometimes children wander into mines to play and are injured. In other cases, workers from industries other than mining have fallen into mine shafts or encountered other hazards on mine property.
All-terrain vehicle drivers often like to ride around old mines. But these mines may have unstable piles of loose material left behind. If this loose material collapses, it may cause the all-terrain vehicle driver to experience a potentially deadly rollover.