Massachusetts mental health provider signs companywide settlement
agreement to protect its workers better against workplace violence
Corrective action resolves citation that followed inspection prompted by a worker's death
BOSTON – North Suffolk Mental Health Association Inc. has entered into a companywide settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor to implement comprehensive procedures and policies to safeguard its workers better against the hazards of workplace violence.
The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited North Suffolk in June 2011 for failing to provide adequate safeguards against workplace violence following the death of a worker in January 2011. A resident of the company's group home in Revere allegedly abducted and murdered the worker, who worked on-site as a senior counselor.
North Suffolk contested its citation to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The settlement, which applies to all North Suffolk programs, activities and workplaces, now resolves the case. Service Employees International Union Local 509, which represents some of the employees affected by the settlement, elected third party status in the case, participated in the proceedings, and is a signatory to the agreement.
"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. "Enhanced safeguards and training at all North Suffolk locations will equip workers with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves better against assault."
"While North Suffolk had in place certain programs and policies to address workplace violence, what we sought in this litigation, and have achieved in this settlement, were improvements for all its locations. These policies are designed to reduce workplace violence substantially, which tragically accounts for injuries and even fatalities," said Michael Felsen, the department's regional Solicitor of Labor for New England.
The terms of the settlement include agreeing to 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, at a minimum, the following measures across all its operations, to the extent it hasn't already:
- 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.
All workers throughout North Suffolk's operations will be provided with a notice summarizing the settlement, which also advises them how they can easily obtain a copy of the full document.
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. The settlement will become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission on Sept. 5, 2013.
OSHA's "Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care & Social Service Workers" resource is available online at http://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3148/osha3148.html. Additional information on workplace violence is available at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/index.html.
The case was litigated by senior trial attorney James Glickman, who is with the department's Regional Office of the Solicitor in Boston. The OSHA investigation was conducted by the agency's Andover Area Office.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille or CD from the COAST office upon request by calling 292-693-7828 or TTY 292-693-7755.