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Region 1 News Release: 11-1111-BOS/BOS 2011-265
July 28, 2011
Contact: Ted Fitzgerald
Phone: 617-565-2074
Email: fitzgerald.edmund@dol.gov

US Labor Department's OSHA cites North Suffolk Mental Health Association
in Massachusetts for inadequate workplace violence safeguards
Citation follows worker's death at group home facility in Revere

ANDOVER, Mass. – The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Massachusetts-based North Suffolk 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 allegedly abducted from the company's group home in Revere 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 with 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. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

"This citation points to the clear and pressing need for this employer, and other employers in this industry, to develop a comprehensive and effective program to proactively address workplace violence situations that imperil the safety and health of their workers," said Jeffrey A. Erskine, OSHA's area director in Andover. "Prevention, protection, awareness, training and communication are critical to protecting these workers against death or serious injuries."

The citation includes a number of suggested and feasible means of abatement that the facility can pursue to address the workplace violence issue, including:

  • Creating 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.
  • Establishing a system to identify clients with assaultive behavior problems and train all staff to understand the system used.
  • Putting in place 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.
  • Identifying the behavioral history of new or transferred clients, including conducting criminal and sexual offender records checks.
  • Conducting 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.
  • Installing and positioning 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. North Shore Mental Health Association has 15 business days from receipt of its citation and proposed penalty to comply, meet with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The investigation was conducted by OSHA's Andover Area Office; telephone 978-837-4460.

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.

To report workplace incidents, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, call the agency'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.

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U.S. Department of Labor news materials are accessible at http://www.dol.gov. The information above is available in large print, Braille, audio tape or disc from the COAST office upon request by calling 202-693-7828 or TTY 202-693-7755.


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