A recent agreement between North Suffolk Mental Health Association, Inc. and the U.S. Department of Labor is intended to safeguard employees against the type of workplace violence that claimed the life of a mental health counselor in 2011.
A resident of the company's group home in Revere, Mass. allegedly abducted and murdered the counselor, who worked on-site.
The settlement was reached after North Suffolk contested OSHA citations related to the death to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Its terms include a stand-alone written violence prevention program for all client-related service programs at all its locations. The program's elements will include workplace controls and prevention strategies; hazard/threat/security assessments; a workplace violence policy statement outlining and emphasizing a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence; incident reporting and investigation; and periodic review of the prevention program. Management will solicit staff input and ensure staff involvement in the workplace violence prevention program, including offering full membership on the company's safety committee.
North Suffolk also agrees to take the following measures across all its operations:
- Implement procedures to communicate any material incident of workplace violence or threatening behavior to staff in a timely manner.
- Implement procedures to account for staff who end their shift away from North Suffolk work sites; a buddy system for at least the second and third shifts, as appropriate, based on situational risk assessments; a procedure for staff to request additional coverage when necessary including, but not limited to, situations where staff members communicate that they feel unsafe; and a system for documenting such requests.
- Determine the behavioral history of new and transferred clients and utilize a system, such as log books, to identify clients with assaultive or threatening behavior and communicate pertinent information to potentially exposed staff; train staff to understand the system; and have a process in place to respond appropriately to clients who display disruptive behavior.
- Provide staff with a reliable way of summoning assistance, such as electronic alarms, cell phones and/or walkie-talkies, when needed on company premises, when staff is alone with a client in the community and/or transporting a client in a vehicle.
- Conduct annual risk assessments of each work site to ensure exit routes are available and easily identified. Provide adequate lighting at all company facilities.
North Suffolk also agrees to provide abatement information and a status report to OSHA on implementation of the agreement's terms. Finally, it agrees to pay the original assessed OSHA fine of $7,000, the maximum fine allowed under law for a serious violation.
"This resolution cannot restore the life that was taken. But it can help prevent future injuries and loss of life," said Marthe Kent, OSHA's New England regional administrator.
OSHA's "Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care & Social Service Workers" resource is available online at www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3148/osha3148.html.
Additional information on workplace violence is available at www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/index.html.