Many countries around the world consider workplace violence to be an important worker health and safety issue but the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been oddly silent on this issue..
That’s why it is significant that OSHA recently cited a Dallas company for safety violations following a robbery that resulted in the horrific death of a store clerk at a Whip In convenience store in Garland, Texas.
The OSHA citations carry proposed fines that are underwhelming – $19,600. However, the action sends a message to convenience store owners that they would be well advised to pay attention to the issues of workplace violence.
In May of 2012, the store clerk, Nancy Harris, 76, died from second- and third-degree burns after she was set on fire during the robbery. Police said Matthew Lee Johnson, 36, arrived at the Whip-In shortly after the store opened at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. Officers said he carried in a bottle of flammable liquid and used it to douse Harris and then set her on fire — after clearing out the cash register.
OSHA cited TMT Inc., owner of the Whip In chain, for four serious safety violations. OSHA contends that if the employer had implemented appropriate control measures and provided training to ensure awareness of potential violence, it is possible that Ms. Harris’ death could have been avoided.
OSHA could not cite any specific violations of their safety standards, so each store was cited with violating OSHA’s “general duty clause” for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause serious injury or death.
While the fine is a pittance, it is not inconceivable that the TMT will face a civil lawsuit as a result of Ms. Harris’ death and the OSHA action could be a significant factor in such a lawsuit.
OSHA’s Dallas Area Office opened an investigation at the Garland store in May after the robbery and later investigated the company’s three other stores in Dallas and Mesquite. OSHA found that workers at those locations were exposed to the same or similar workplace violence hazards. TMTemploys more than 60 employees across the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides.
OSHA defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening and disruptive behavior that occurs at a work site. According to OSHA, workplace violence includes behavior ranging from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.
More information on workplace violence is available at OSHA’s website at www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence.