Violent Incidents Continue to Plague our Workplaces
April 21, 2011
By, Assemblyman Rory Lancman
Chair of the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety
Despite the implementation of a statewide Public Employer Workplace Violence Prevention Law in March 2007, New York workplaces still experience steady rates of assaults and violent acts. The law requires specific employers to develop a workplace violence prevention program, which includes conducting a workplace violence risk assessment and providing employees with training for violence prevention and handling.
The Subcommittee on Workplace Safety examined the prevalence of workplace violence in the public sector in the fall of 2010 by surveying a sample of public employees for compliance with sixteen regulatory requirements for a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. The sample included (1) all New York State agencies, (2) thirty-seven of the largest state authorities, and (3) eighteen other public employers. The Subcommittee found that 44.9% of state agencies surveyed and 46.7% of public authorities surveyed could not produce any evidence of having completed a Workplace Violence Prevention Program as required by the Workplace Violence Prevention Law. Further, 50% of state agencies responding to the survey and 46.1% of public authorities conceded that they had not provided the workplace violence prevention training required under the law.
The Subcommittee has been coordinating efforts in workplace violence prevention, collaborating with various leaders and organizations throughout the state. One notable example is the case of the Bronx Psychiatric Center, where employees were frequently harmed when patients had violent outbursts, with no workplace violence prevention program in place. In September 2010, the Bronx Psychiatric Center was issued a violation from the NYS Department of
Labor for not complying with the law. Union members in the facility represented by the Public Employees Federation and the Civil Service Employees Association contacted the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety for assistance in pressuring the facility to comply with the law. In order to redress the safety failures of the facility, the Subcommittee met with the New York State Office of Mental Health to ensure that necessary workplace violence prevention changes were being implemented at the facility and to invoke future changes more effectively. The united front was successful in achieving this goal, and in a recent follow up meeting between the Subcommittee, Bronx Psychiatric Center management and employee representatives, it was clear that the facility is on track to implementing a workplace violence prevention program with full employee participation.
In addition to ensuring compliance with the Workplace Violence Prevention Law, the Subcommittee is supporting three bills addressing Workplace Violence: the “Healthcare Workplace Violence Prevention Law” (A.4856, Lancman), adding private healthcare facilities to those covered by the Workplace Violence Prevention Law; the “Juvenile Justice Community Facility Violence Prevention Act” (A.2129, Lancman), which would include privately run juvenile justice employers in those covered by the Workplace Violence Prevention Law; and the "School Workplace Violence Prevention Act" (A.6972, Wright), establishing workplace violence prevention programs in schools.
In light of the effort that has already been made through the enactment of the Workplace Violence Prevention Law, additional targeted legislation is urgently needed to broaden the scope and cover all unprotected workplaces. The proposed Healthcare Workplace Violence Prevention, Juvenile Justice Community Facility Violence Prevention, and School Workplace Violence Prevention Acts aim to do just that. All three seek to amend the labor law so that vulnerable workplaces are safeguarded. Implementing violence prevention programs in healthcare, juvenile justice facilities and public schools would not only improve security, but also require management to identify risks of violence and undertake the means to abate those risks, preventing the costly and potentially tragic consequences of workplace violence.