Guns 'n safety
October 3, 2008
A recent news story caught our eye, illustrating once more that job safety issues are not confined to inside plant walls.
This story poses a question and a challenge: What is your company’s policy, if one exists at all, on allowing employees with concealed-weapons permits to keep guns in their cars in company parking lots?
A little background:
Several large Florida employers are trying to circumvent a law allowing workers to keep guns in their parked cars, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. (See NewsScan, page 12.) In June, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling supported the right to keep handguns at home.
The bigger story: Employers across the country now confront new dilemmas about how and when to allow weapons on company property, as they attempt to balance the Second Amendment rights of their employees (to keep and bear arms) with federal laws requiring them to provide a safe workplace.
Florida is one of at least nine states to pass legislation that allows employees with proper permits to bring guns to workplace parking lots, according to The Journal.
Dogs, drugs, and guns
The guns-at-work debate goes back to 2002 when Weyerhaeuser Co. used search dogs to find drugs in parked vehicles at its Valliant, Okla., paper mill, according to the article. The search also found 12 cars containing guns in violation of a company policy prohibiting firearms. Several employees were fired. Gun-rights advocates got fired-up, pressing support for laws expressly permitting licensed owners to keep their weapons in their cars while at work.
Two years later, Oklahoma lawmakers barred employers from prohibiting “any person, except a convicted felon,” from bringing a gun to work. Last year, a federal judge struck down the law, saying that it violated federal guidelines put out by OSHA. The state is appealing.
What federal OSHA guidelines?
Do your own search for “guns” on www.osha.gov and you’ll mostly get referred to compressed air guns, handheld nail/stapling guns, explosives and blasting agents, and the like.
But you’ll also find an interesting letter from Richard Fairfax, OSHA’s director of enforcement programs, responding to a 2005 letter addressed to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. The letter writer petitioned Chao to establish a nationally binding policy that would ban guns from American workplaces.
Fairfax replied on September 13, 2006, stating in part: “While generally deferring to other federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies to regulate workplace homicides, OSHA did develop an enforcement policy with regard to workplace violence as early as 1992 in a letter of interpretation that stated:
“‘In a workplace where the risk of violence and serious personal injury are significant enough to be ‘recognized hazards,’ the general duty clause [specified by Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)] would require the employer to take feasible steps to minimize those risks. Failure of an employer to implement feasible means of abatement of these hazards could result in the finding of an OSH Act violation.’” Fairfax continued, “This policy statement permits the Agency to reinforce its guidance and outreach efforts with appropriate enforcement action.”
Fairfax’s statement itself seems open to interpretation. OSHA has reassured politicians and business groups time and again that its guidelines are advisory and do not create new employer obligations.
Despite Fairfax’s “letter of interpretation,” OSHA workplace violence guidelines are not specific on the question of allowing or disallowing employees with permits to carry concealed weapons to bring them to work (say in a 24/7 convenience store or gas station) and/or leave them in their parked cars.
In the 1996, OSHA issued “Guidelines for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs for Night Retail Establishments” and in 1992 issued the “letter of interpretation” that Fairfax quoted. That letter went on to state: “…the occurrence of acts of violence which are not ‘recognized’ as characteristic of employment and represent random antisocial acts which may occur anywhere would not subject the employer to a citation for a violation of the OSH Act.
“Whether or not an employer can be cited for a violation of Section 5(a)(1) is entirely dependent upon the specific facts, which will be unique in each situation. The recognizability and foreseeability of the hazard, and the feasibility of the means of abatement are some of the critical factors to be considered.”
OSHA seems to be focusing the possible application of its General Duty Clause on workplaces such as 7-11s and other retail stores operating at night or 24/7, where the risk of robbery runs high. The agency does not seem ready to apply the General Duty Clause for unpredictable “random antisocial acts,” such as an irate employee fetching his gun from his car’s glove compartment after an argument with a supervisor and marching back to the super’s office to blow holes in walls, or worse.
In light of nebulous assumptions, you can see why The Wall Street Journal describes employers as currently scratching their heads and scrambling to figure out how and when to allow guns on company property. Critics claim the new laws such as Florida’s increase the risk of workplace violence by making a gun readily available to a raging or unstable worker, according to the article. Plus, critics say, the guns-at-work laws provide no offsetting safety benefits because a law-abiding employee wouldn't have time, in the event of an assault in the parking lot, to access a gun locked inside a car.
So, what’s your policy?
SIDEBAR: Readers Respond to Guns â€™N Safety“You think the GUN is dangerous?”
From your article: “...unpredictable ‘random antisocial acts,’ such as an irate employee fetching his gun from his car's glove compartment after an argument with a supervisor and marching back to the super’s office to wreak revenge.”
For crying out loud. How stupid is this? If the irate employee knew that the super and many other responsible people had guns and were ready, able and willing to use them, it would GREATLY reduce the likelihood that he would dare get his gun and come back in.
The crazy notion that guns have to be left in a car in the parking lot just contributes to this ridiculousness. You think the GUN is dangerous? It’s an inanimate object, a tool that very few people might use for violence unless confronted by the vast majority who would use it for protection. Taking the guns out of the hands of those who would use them for protection is a set-up for disaster. It just makes it easier for the violent to wreak greater damage, e.g. Columbine.
If an irate employee comes in the plant waving a gun it would be safer for everyone else if he were “taken out of the gene pool” before he hurt someone. I think OSHA should require responsible people in leadership roles, at minimum, to carry a defensive weapon if there’s no security personnel. There is no better way to prevent violence than the threat of death, and don’t tell me that a gun ban would prevent criminals from getting guns, that's just dumb.
As an example of bad policy: In my workplace we are not allowed to have guns. When someone is fired, which happens too often, we lay odds expecting sooner or later somebody is going to “go postal.” We have several people willing and able to take them out with their bare hands but that's hardly a fair fight when one guy has a gun. It’s just a matter of time.
Rules about guns in the workplace should be limited to keeping them safe from accidental discharge and out of the hands of irresponsible employees. Only those properly trained and licensed should be allowed to carry.
“Liberals would be aghast at the thought…”
After reading your article, I shared it with a close friend who owns a business that manufacturers one of the country’s finest 50 cal. sniper rifles and handguns. Obviously he is a strong Second Amendment advocate. He mentioned that almost all of his employees have undergone weapons training, received a Concealed Weapons Permit from the state and carry their weapons to work.
My friend’s establishment is just like any other manufacturer’s establishment faced with similar safety and personnel issues. In my friend’s case, however, everyone is well aware of who is carrying a weapon. Consequently, the likelihood that any employee will become disruptive and cause a problem is diminished considerably.
Personally, I believe employers should advocate that employees who have gone through a weapons training class and possess a current and valid concealed weapons permit be allowed to carry their weapon on company property. This does not mean that anyone with a weapon be allowed to carry on company property; only those who can produce a valid permit and demonstrate they have gone through training
Of course, liberals would be aghast at the thought, but I wonder how quickly these liberals would shed their gun ban mentality if faced with looking down the barrel of a gun held by an assailant? I dare say every liberal out there would hope and pray someone nearby was carrying a weapon and knew how to use it.
“I would hope someone else would go… get their gun and stop the crazy person”
Do you really think someone who would be crazy enough to shoot someone would care about the law to not bring his or her gun to work!
And do you think anyone who would be irate enough to go to their car and come back and still be irate enough to shoot someone would not figure another way to seriously hurt or kill the same person?
Most times, a person shoots more than one individual when this happens. If I were the next one on his list, I would hope someone else would go to their car, get their gun and stop the crazy person doing the shooting.