The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited a Massachusetts-based mental health association for failing to provide its employees with adequate safeguards against workplace violence. OSHA opened an inspection following the January death of an employee who was abducted from the company's group home by one of the residents.

The senior counselor, who was working alone, was attacked and fatally injured during the performance of her regularly assigned duties. OSHA's inspection found that employees at the facility are exposed to the hazard of physical assault while providing services to clients, and that the employer failed to develop and implement adequate measures to protect employees against such assaults.

As a result, OSHA has cited the facility for a serious violation of the agency's "general duty clause" for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause serious injury or death. The citation also includes a number of corrective measures the facility should pursue:

  • Create a stand-alone written workplace violence prevention program that includes implementation of 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.
  • Establish a system to identify clients with assaultive behavior problems and train all staff to understand the system.
  • Implement procedures to communicate any incident to staff so that employees without access to client charts are aware of previous violent or aggressive acts by a client.
  • Identify the behavioral history of new or transferred clients, including conducting criminal and sexual offender records checks.
  • Conduct more extensive training so that all employees are aware of the facility's workplace violence policy and where information about it can be found, including training employees to clearly state to clients that violence is not permitted or tolerated; how to respond during a workplace violence incident; recognize when individuals are exhibiting aggressive behavior and how to de-escalate the behavior; and identify risk factors that can cause or contribute to assault.
  • Install and position panic buttons, walkie-talkies, recording security camera systems and smart phone GPS applications to better monitor employee safety and increase staff communication and support; implement and maintain a buddy system on at least the second and third shifts, based on a complete hazard assessment.

The citation carries a proposed penalty of $7,000, the maximum amount that can be proposed for a serious violation.

For more information on workplace violence: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/index.html