The Faces of Workplace Violence
By AnaStacia Nicol Wright and Rachel van Geenhoven
The Last Day on the Job
On Mother’s Day of 2022, father and son hit the road on their motorcycles and headed over to Smokin Joe’s Trading Post on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation. Perhaps they were trying to grab a last minute present or some coals to get the grill started or maybe they just went on an aimless joyride to spend some time together on the open roads. No matter what their plans may have been they were halted upon arriving at Smokin Joes because the father’s bike gave out. And, as fathers tend to do, he refused to call AAA, Geico or Uber. Instead he tinkered around under the hood of his bike before looking up and scanning the area and saying to his son how all he needed to get this bike up and on the road again was a piece of wire.
This was how Aaron Salter II and his namesake spent Sunday, May 8th, 2022, before another Smokin Joes patron gave them a jump start- although Aaron Salter would have preferred a good ole wire. While they labored in the warm New York sun on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, neither father nor son knew that this would be the last weekend they spent together. Six days later, Aaron Salter II, father, deacon, motorcycle MacGyver and Tops security guard walked into work at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, for the last time. That day he and 10 others would lose their lives to an anti-Black racist lone shooter.
Eva Miereles and Irma Garcia had both spent 17 and 23 years, respectively, working in education. On Tuesday, May 24th they were both working at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Eva was likely looking forward to calling her daughter at 4:30 pm after school, like she did every work day. But on this Tuesday, her daughter didn’t get a call from her mom and she never would. Irma was probably running through the summer plans for her two minor daughters Lyliana, 15 and Alysandara, 13 while simultaneously preparing her students to end their own school year. Unfortunately, Irma wouldn’t ever know how any of her kids spent their summer vacations because a teenager with a gun walked onto the Robb Elementary School campus and killed twenty-one people; nineteen 4th graders and two teachers- Eva Miereles and Irma Garcia.
Columbia Machine manufacturing company in Smithsburg, Maryland was likely buzzing with activity at 2:30 pm on Thursday, June 9th, 2022. Employees were probably trying to wrap up their last minute projects and preparing for their end of day Friday plans. But Friday would never come for 3 of these workers- Mark Alan Frey, 50; Charles Edward Minnick, Jr., 31 and Joshua Robert Wallace, 30, because a man with a semi-automatic weapon walked in and opened fire.
What did Aaron Salter II, Eva Miereles, Irma Garcia, Mark Alan Frey, Charles Edward Minnick, Jr., and Joshua Robert Wallace all have in common? They all lost their lives to violence in their workplace. And all of their deaths might have been prevented if businesses throughout the nation were to adopt a Workplace Violence (WPV) Standard.
What is a Workplace Violence Standard?
Wait–let’s take this back a step. What is a standard? According to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website:
OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards.
Long ago in our nation’s history, in response to terrible working conditions and workplace tragedies that resulted in the loss of many lives, workers and the general public fought for the government to hold employers accountable for creating safe conditions for their employees, including taking steps to prevent foreseeable tragedies.
More recently, the prevalence of violence in the healthcare industry, which sees the highest rate of workplace violence out of any industry, inspired the creation of a Workplace Violence Standard mandating measures to protect healthcare workers from experiencing violence on the job.
But the healthcare industry isn’t the only industry that sees high rates of workplace violence, and it is far from being the only industry where workers are vulnerable to experiencing violence on the job. And the most vulnerable, as per usual, are often the lowest wage workers. Which makes this an important issue for anyone who seeks to create a more equitable, fair, and safe world for all workers.
For this reason, Worksafe and other workers rights, health and safety advocates are seeking a general WPV standard in California so that employers everywhere take the necessary steps to assess the risks faced by their employees, adopt protective measures, and document, evaluate and adjust those measures for effectiveness in the wake of incidents.
Worksafe’s Recommendations to Improve the General Standard
The language of the General WPV Standard is currently under review, and Worksafe has been working together with colleagues and allies to ensure that the General Standard will be effective in protecting workers. Some of our key recommendations include:
Ensuring that all workers are provided with their company’s workplace violence prevention plan upon employment;
Expanding the definition of Workplace Violence to ensure that workers are protected from harassment, stalking, and other forms of threat to their safety that do not involve a threat of physical injury but entail psychological trauma or stress and cause workers to fear for their safety;
Ensuring that the incident reporting requirement includes incidents of violence such as sexual assault and other physical assault that doesn’t result in lasting injuries — so that the preventative measures against these kinds of things are also routinely evaluated for effectiveness, and improved where necessary;
Including provisions for an active shooter scenario as a general standard for all workplaces, and mandating that employees be allowed to carry cellphones on them as one measure to ensure a faster emergency response should a shooter enter a workplace.
How You Can Help
Despite the fact that interpersonal violence and domestic violence occur at high rates in the workplace, and mass shootings, for example, are almost always occurring in places where employees are required to present, Workplace Violence is not a highly visible, well-known, or much discussed issue in the public forum.
Help us spread the word. An increase in public awareness and understanding could go a long way towards underscoring the necessity of a general industry standard and motivating our governing bodies to prioritize it.
Towards Better Outcomes
As we take steps to reduce the risk of active shooters, protect women from domestic violence, and generally address the phenomenon of interpersonal violence nationwide, we must not neglect to focus on the workplace. As we mourn the lives so senselessly lost, we must also fight like hell to protect the people we can protect: the workers who will face similar threats in the coming days, whose lives might be saved by some foresight and planning on the part of their employers.
Since Cal OSHA last entertained creating a general industry workplace violence standard there have been multiple workplace shootings that resulted in over 1000 fatalities and injuries nationwide. Workplace violence may seem far removed to many readers. It’s something that happens to an individual, usually as a result in an interpersonal conflict that person faced. But often it’s impersonal-whether a disgruntled coworker who turns violent upon learning they’re fired, a member of the public airing their frustrations as a protest against COVID measures (during the pandemic we saw and continue to see violence against frontline workers in response to mask mandates), or –unfortunately an increasingly common event– a mass shooting.
Think of all the venues where such mass shootings have occurred: in movie theaters, malls, schools, restaurants, house parties, grocery stores, marathons, parades, colleges. These were all someone’s workplace. These are the places our best friends, spouses, and teenagers work. These are places we work. The randomness of these attacks, combined with the increasing nature of this type violence points to a need to be sure we are most prepared in the places we spend most of our time: at work.
Remember Buffalo. Remember Uvalde. Remember Smithsburg. These are instances of workplace violence.
Remember Aaron. Remember Eva and Irma. Remember Mark, Charles and Joshua. They are the faces of workplace violence.
Remember your loved ones. Remember you. Remember me. We are all the possible next victims of workplace violence.
Mass shooters, terrorists, who unloaded rounds of ammunition at someone’s workplace did not just take the lives of patrons and those in attendance. They took the lives of the employees who had to be there. And, maybe, with the right protections in place their violence could have been prevented or mitigated. The revisions proposed by Cal OSHA will go a long way toward ensuring that all workers have the needed support to enforce their rights under this proposed standard.
Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care
Cal/OSHA's Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care standard goes into effect on April 1, 2017.
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