Roofing contractors face numerous challenges when it comes to employee safety. Typically, when roofing contractors think of safety, fall protection, ladder safety, fire prevention and hazard communication come to mind. But there's another haunting risk contractors face: workplace violence. According to 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, the fourth leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. is workplace violence. Workplace violence is a real threat and often overlooked when contractors develop their overall risk management programs.
What is it?
Before you develop any type of program focusing on workplace violence, it is vital you understand what it is. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines it as any act of physical violence, threat of violence (including harassment and intimidation), or other threatening behavior that can create a risk to the health and safety of an employee or employees in the workplace. It can range from online threats, verbal threats or petty criminal acts to more serious threats, such as robbery or homicide. It can take many forms, including:
Who's at risk?
BLS estimates more than 100,000 roofing workers, helpers and laborers are in the field on a typical day in the roofing industry. In addition to the risks of personal confrontations common to all human interaction, risks can increase when certain factors occur. Among those factors that have increased risk are working alone or in small groups, during nighttime hours or early morning hours, and in high-crime areas or isolated areas.
Roofing work can take place in all these situations though most violent incidents are carried out by someone the victim knows. I remember seeing two brothers get into a fight on a rooftop. The roofing industry, like many other industries, is full of individuals with strong personalities. Sometimes, personalities don't see eye to eye and fights can break out. In most cases, it goes without saying, violence easily can occur simply because the opportunity presents itself.
Although the case of the two brothers fighting did not lead to a fatality, the situation could have been avoided. There were many indicators leading up to their fight: scuffles in the parking lot, co-workers' stories of arguments between the two, rumors of off-hour fights and even requests by one of the brothers to be put on a different crew. These critical signs should not have been overlooked and should have been addressed immediately.
What can you do?
The best thing to do is develop a job-specific policy to address potential workplace violence. Policies can vary, but a few specific things you should consider include:
It is important employees understand any act or claim of workplace violence will be investigated thoroughly and management is fully committed to their safety.
In addition to enforcing a workplace violence policy, you also can do the following:
Not only can policies help protect employees from needless harassment and possible violence, but comprehensive policies, when enforced, can protect employers, as well.
For example, in a case where a social service coordinator was killed while making a home visit to a client (Secretary of Labor v. Integra Health Management Inc., OSHRC No. 13-1124), the coordinator repeatedly had submitted work notes that showed reasonable concern of danger in going to that client's household alone. She was later stabbed to death. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission determined the employer's workplace violence program was inadequate and the employer did not heed warnings and concerns regarding her safety.
As a result, the company faced the tragic loss of an employee, a workers' compensation death case and serious citation under OSHA's general duty clause.
A workplace violence policy could have spared the social service coordinator's life and spared the company legal defense. There are some great resources (such as www.neighborhoodscout.com) available to help you determine whether certain job sites or locations may pose additional risks. In most cases, local employees, clients and police stations will provide insight to where dangerous areas are within the community.
What can employees do?
Sometimes, little can be done to avoid workplace violence, but your employees should know what it is and how to take steps to avoid it. Employees must:
Workplace violence can come from within the company's walls or outside of them. It is vital employees are trained how to immediately recognize and report signs of potential workplace violence, any suspicious activity, and an uncomfortable feeling about somebody or someplace.
A real threat
According to OSHA, a well-written and implemented workplace violence prevention program combined with administrative controls and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence.
Although there isn't a one-size-fits-all program for every company, employers and employees should understand the potential for risks for workplace violence and take the necessary actions to reduce the risks.
Rich Trewyn is an NRCA director of enterprise risk management.