Episodes of workplace violence at most work sites are bad enough, but when such an incident occurs at an OSHA office, it really raises eyebrows.

At the Eugene office of the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division, several OSHA employees were struck by a co-worker but not injured, according to a report in the Statesman (Salem, Ore.) Journal. The incidents have raised questions about Oregon OSHA's ability to take care of its own employees, and have led to a state Senate hearing and a report ordered by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office.

Oregon OSHA employees allege their bosses brushed aside concerns about the worker's behavior.

"How can this happen in the agency responsible for preventing violence in the workplace?" said Sen. Bill Morrisette, D-Springfield.

Morrisette said he intervened when Oregon OSHA employees asked for his help. Although the senator and other officials familiar with the case did not provide many specifics about the incident, they did confirm that the person who did the hitting was a 22-year employee of Oregon OSHA and was fired last year for unspecified reasons.

An official for the union that represents Oregon OSHA workers called it a complicated issue pitting the protection of worker rights to a violence-free workplace against protections for disabilities. The fired employee had a disability and did not intend to harm anyone, the union official said.

Workers at the Eugene office complained for years before any action was taken, Morrisette said. One supervisor who attempted to address the problem was subsequently fired for having a bad attitude, Morrisette added.

Oregon OSHA management also ignored the recommendations of its designated risk manager, whose job is to protect employees as well as prevent lawsuits directed at the agency, Morrisette said.

Morrisette maintains that Oregon OSHA employees are afraid to discuss workplace problems with higher-ups out of fear of losing their jobs.

A report on Oregon OSHA, issued January 26 by the Department of Administrative Services on orders from the governor's office, stated the division is "struggling through issues of effective leadership, involvement of managers and employees in decision-making, respect for individual differences, teamwork and collaboration, and effective interactive communications. These issues have resulted in low employee morale."