Let’s Take the Anonymity Out of Workplace Violence

Alison Parker, a television journalist in Virginia, was reporting live from a shopping center in Roanoke last week when a former colleague named Victor Flanigan made Parker part of a much bigger story. With cameras rolling, Flanigan shot Parker, cameraman Adam Ward and Vicki Gardner, the subject of Parker’s interview that morning. Flanigan later turned the gun on himself.

Gardner is in stable condition, but Parker and Ward were not as fortunate.

Among those who watched the grisly scene unfold in real time was Gardner’s husband, who was relieved to be able to speak to his wife while she was in route to the hospital.

Violence is the second-leading cause of workplace fatalities, behind only transportation accidents. In 2013, more than 750 American workers lost their lives in violent incidents. Women are especially vulnerable, with violence accounting for 22 percent of fatalities.

Any business can be targeted for violence committed by third parties, but certain industries are more prone. If your employees exchange money with the public, work alone or in small numbers, or work outside normal business hours, they are at increased risk. So too are health care workers. In fact, violent episodes in hospitals and clinics are so pervasive that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued industry-specific safety guidelines.

And then there is violence that comes from within a business’ ranks. When it does, it is often perpetrated by a disgruntled co-worker. That was the case in Virginia last week.

Flanigan was unhappy, difficult to work with and prone to violent outbursts, according to the station’s manager. After multiple incidents, the station fired Flanigan two years ago, and police escorted him out of the building.

Investigators are still fleshing out the details of the crime, but evidence suggests Flanigan felt he was the target of bullying and racial discrimination. His response adds yet another chapter to the ongoing workplace violence story. And we’ve read the story so many times that we’ve become desensitized.

2013 Workplace Fatalities
Motor vehicle accidents 1,740
Violence 753
Contact with objects 717
Falls, slips, trips 699
Exposure to harmful environments, substances 330
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

It seems not a day goes by that we don’t see headlines like “Workplace Shooter Kills Five.” Too often, the antagonists in those stories become public figures, while their victims remain largely anonymous. Perhaps if we could put a name and face with the victims, we would allow ourselves to be moved from passive readers to active participants in finding a solution.

Parker, 24 years old, grew up in nearby Martinsville and graduated from James Madison University. She was dating a co-worker, nightly news anchor Chris Hurst. The couple kept their relationship under wraps, but Parker’s death moved Hurst to announce it to the world in an emotional Twitter message:

“We didn’t share this publicly, but @AParkerWDBJ7 and I were very much in love. We just moved in together. I am numb.”

Like Parker, Ward was dating a co-worker. In fact, he and producer Melissa Ott were engaged. Ward earned his degree in communications and media studies from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He had worked for the station since July 2011.

Parker, Ward and Gardner surely didn’t expect to go to work and be shot that day. Few do. It makes sense, then, that “senseless” is one of the most common adjectives associated with workplace violence. We can’t predict if or when it will happen. But we can prepare now by putting preventive measures in place.

OSHA’s general duty clause requires employers to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” OSHA can fine employers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate a recognized hazard. But fines are the least of your concerns if an employee becomes a victim of violence. The human cost of pain and suffering carries are far higher price tag. Here are a few basic steps you can take to protect your employees:

  • Adopt a written, zero tolerance workplace violence policy.
  • Be aware of tenuous relationships among staff, as well as other workplace violence triggering events.
  • Teach employees to recognize and report verbal abuse, threats, constant anger and other red flags.
  • Offer employees access to an employee assistance program that includes counseling on relationship problems, financial issues, legal matters, substance abuse and other difficult life circumstances.
  • Understand that early intervention is critical to diffusing violent situations.
  • Don’t let your guard down. One of the most common mistakes companies make is terminating the person and believing  that is the end of the matter, according to Randy Ferris, cofounder of Violence Prevention Strategies. Ferris recommends employers develop threat assessment procedures, maintain a security plan and monitor the person’s online presence.

For more information about preventing workplace violence, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Name-Brand Knockoffs, Standardized Tests and Pedestrian Safety

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

I’m not going to tell you when I graduated from high school, but let’s just say it was a long time ago. Still, certain memories of those first weeks of the school year remain as uncomfortable as a brand new pair of Levi’s 501 jeans.

Every year, mom drug me to the department stores in search of the best deals. Inevitably, I’d steer her toward the name-brand stuff, and inevitably, she’d redirect me to the knock-offs. Someday, I’ll remind her she didn’t have a reputation to protect.

Who am I kidding? Neither did I.

Anyway, my thoughts are with the millions of Texas kids who are no doubt enduring similar injustices
right about now. Between name-brand knockoffs, standardized tests and social hierarchies, they have enough on their plates. They shouldn’t have to worry about getting to school safely.

Unfortunately, unintentional pedestrian injuries are the second-leading cause of death in the United States for children ages 5 to 14. In Texas, 663 vehicle crashes occurred in school zones last year, resulting in 21 serious injuries. August and September of 2014 alone saw 107 school zone crashes.

The most common factors contributing to these crashes were driver inattention, failure to control speed and failure to yield the right of way at stop signs.

We all share responsibility for making sure kids get to and from school safely. Here are some tips to keep in mind as the school season kicks off.

Tips for pedestrians

  • Look left, right and left again before crossing the street. Continue looking until safely across.
  • Put phones, headphones and devices down when crossing the street. Parents should model this safe behavior for kids, especially teenagers.
  • Walk on sidewalks or paths, and cross at street corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks. If there are no sidewalks, walk as far to the left as possible, and face traffic.
  • Some students ride their bike to school. They should always wear a helmet and ride in the same direction as traffic.
  • Children should cross the street with an adult. Every child is different, but developmentally, most kids are unable to judge the speed and distance of oncoming cars until age 10.

For more tips, click here.

Tips for drivers

  • Put away your cell phone. Cell phone use is banned in active school zones, and violators face fines of up to $200 in school zones where signs are posted.
  • Always obey school zone speed limit signs. Remember, traffic fines usually double in school zones.
  • Drop off and pick up your children in your school’s designated areas, not the middle of the street.
  • Keep an eye on children gathered at bus stops.
  • Be alert for children who might dart across the street or between vehicles on their way to school.
  • Don’t block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn. You might force pedestrians to go around you, putting them in the path of moving traffic.
  • Never pass a bus from behind, or from either direction if you’re on an undivided road, if it is stopped to load or unload children.

For more tips, click here.

More information

For more information on back-to-school safety, visit the National Safety Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Red Cross.

This Week in Comp, August 7, 2015

Pros and cons of wearable technology in the workplace
In Australia, “SmartCaps” are equipped with sensors that detect truck drivers’ alertness and reduce fatigue-related accidents. In the oil and gas industry, BP joined the ranks of 10,000 companies worldwide that offer their staff fitness trackers in an effort to improve wellness and safety. These are just a handful of the safety applications of wearable devices in the workplace. But wearables also come with drawbacks, including privacy concerns…MORE

The thermometer might not read 100, but…

Summer TemperatureThe heat index, not the temperature, is an accurate indicator of how much stress the body feels in hot conditions…MORE

AIA submits testimony against adverse workers’ comp bill in Illinois
Illinois is home to the most competitive workers’ comp market in the country. A proposed pricing control regulatory scheme would adversely affect competition by creating unnecessary administrative burdens, according to the American Insurance Association…MORE

Kids take after their parents when it comes to texting while driving

More than half of teens confess to texting while driving to update their parents, and 19 percent say parents expect a response within one minute, according to a recent study…MORE

California workers’ comp premiums growing at double-digit rates
IncreaseHigher premium rates and growth in insured payroll resulting from economic expansion and wage level increases have made California premium rates the highest in the nation…MORE

CopperPoint CEO sets retirement after 15 years at helm of insurer
Donald Smith Jr. oversaw CopperPoint Mutual’s transition from quasi-government entity to private company. Previously known as SCF Arizona, CopperPoint became a fully private mutual insurance company in 2013…MORE

New guide explains training requirement in five major industries
OSHA released a guide that explains what training it requires employees to receive in general industry, construction, maritime, agriculture and federal employee programs…MORE

Regulatory roundup
Texas Mutual’s weekly roundup of EHS news…MORE

AMA: Physician groups band together to address America’s opioid crisis
Every day, 44 people die from opioid overdoses. The AMA Task Force to Reduce Opioid Abuse is working to reverse the trend. The task force’s initial focus will be on efforts that urge physicians to register for and use state-based prescription drug monitoring programs…MORE

Pills White BackgroundOR AG settles with pharmaceutical company over unlawful promotion of powerful opioid
The Oregon attorney general reached a $1.1 million settlement with Insys, the company that manufactures the schedule II opioid drug Subsys, to resolve allegations that the powerful drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat cancer pain was marketed in Oregon for off-label uses such as non-cancer neck and back pain…MORE


The Thermometer Might Not Read 100, But…

Water, rest and shade are critical when working or playing outside. Click on the image for more information.

Water, rest and shade are critical when working or playing outside. Click on the image for more information.

Texas summers arrive in stages. In April, we reluctantly say our final goodbyes to cool temperatures. In May and June, our bodies start acclimating to the heat. In July, we typically see our first 100-degree day, followed closely by a few more, and then a few more. You get the idea.

And August through September is crunch time. That’s when Texans summon whatever physical and mental strength we have left and plow through, our sights set on the prize: the first fall “front.”

Actually, this has been a relatively mild summer by Texas standards. Remember, though, that just because the thermometer doesn’t read 100 doesn’t mean you’re not at risk of heat-related illness. You have the heat index to thank for that.

The heat index is a measure of the temperature and humidity. It is also a more accurate indication of how much stress your body will experience.

Navigating summer temperatures can be an especially risky proposition if you work indoors. For example, maybe you dive into a full weekend of yard maintenance or some other strenuous outdoor labor. Unfortunately, your body may not be acclimated to the heat, increasing your risk of heat illness.

The simple message is, don’t overdo it. As summer sings its customary, excruciatingly long swan song, keep these safety tips in mind.

If you experience signs of heat stress, get inside and cool down. But don’t get back in the game too soon. You might start to feel better, but your body may still be recovering from the toll taken by the heat.

Heat stress isn’t the only potential consequence of heat exposure. Heat can also increase the risk of other injuries resulting from sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness and contact with hot surfaces or steam.

Remember that adults aren’t the only demographic at risk during the summer months. Yesterday, a 10-month-old baby died after being left unattended in a car in South Austin. Stories like this are far too common.

In 2014, 31 children died  after being left unattended in or around vehicles. Vehicles heat up quickly, and not even a window rolled down two inches can prevent that. The temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes if the outside temperature is in the low 80s. Even with temperatures in the 60s or 70s, heatstroke poses a serious risk. A child will die of heatstroke once their body temperature reaches 107 degrees. The U.S. Department of Transportation offers these safety tips to protect children.

Get more information



What You Need to Know About OSHA’s New Confined Space Rule

Entrapments, asphyxiation and explosions are just a few of the hazards construction workers face when they enter condenser pits, manholes, ventilation ducts, tanks, sumps and other confined spaces. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created its new confined space rule for the construction industry to protect workers from those hazards. OSHA estimates that the rule, which was effective August 3, could protect nearly 800 workers a year from serious injuries.

What is a confined space?
A confined space is a space large enough for a worker to enter, but it is not designed for continuous employee occupancy, and it has limited means for entry and exit.

What is a permit-required confined space?

Click on the image to visit our Work Safe, Texas site and watch a short video about confined spaces.

Click on the image to visit our Work Safe, Texas site and watch a short video about confined spaces.

A permit-required confined space may have a hazardous atmosphere, engulfment hazard or other serious hazard, such as exposed wiring, that can interfere with a worker’s ability to leave the space without assistance. Only workers who have been assigned and trained to work in a permit space may do so. Additionally, before workers can enter a permit space, the employer has to write a permit that specifies what safety measures must to be taken and who is allowed to go in.

How is the new rule different from the general industry rule?
The new rule requires employers to determine what kinds of spaces their workers are in, what hazards could be there, how those hazards should be made safe, what training workers should receive, and how to rescue those workers if anything goes wrong. The rule is based largely on its general industry counterpart, with a few key differences.

The five new requirements include:

  1. More detailed provisions requiring coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite. This will ensure hazards are not introduced into a confined space by workers performing tasks outside the space. An example would be a generator running near the entrance of a confined space causing a buildup of carbon monoxide within the space.
  2. Requiring a competent person to evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces.
  3. Requiring continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible.
  4. Requiring continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards. For example, when workers are performing work in a storm sewer, a storm upstream from the workers could cause flash flooding. An electronic sensor or observer posted upstream from the work site could alert workers in the space at the first sign of the hazard, giving the workers time to evacuate the space safely.
  5. Allowing for the suspension of a permit, instead of cancellation, in the event of changes from the entry conditions listed on the permit or an unexpected event requiring evacuation of the space. The space must be returned to the entry conditions listed on the permit before re-entry.

In addition, OSHA has added provisions to the new rule that clarifies existing requirements in the general industry standard:

  1. Requiring that employers who direct workers to enter a space without using a complete permit system prevent workers’ exposure to physical hazards through elimination of the hazard or isolation methods such as lockout/tagout.
  2. Requiring that employers who are relying on local emergency services arrange for responders to give the employer advance notice if they will be unable to respond for a period of time (because they are responding to another emergency, attending department-wide training, etc.).
  3. Requiring employers to provide training in a language and vocabulary that the worker understands.

Key takeaways for workers:

  • Do not enter permit-required confined spaces without being trained and without having a permit to enter.
  • Review, understand and follow your employer’s procedures before entering permit-required confined spaces, and know how and when to exit.
  • Use fall protection, rescue, air-monitoring, ventilation, lighting and communication equipment according to entry procedures.
  • Maintain contact at all times with a trained attendant visually, by phone or by two-way radio.

More information
For more information about the new confined space rule for the construction industry, visit OSHA’s website.

Note: Texas Mutual Insurance Company offers this information as general guidance. The company does not represent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nor do its employees speak on OSHA’s behalf. For specific guidance, contact your local OSHA field office.

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