Safety and OSHA News

Fatal shooting focuses attention on workplace violence

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a serious injury or fatality to focus attention on a particular workplace hazard. That’s exactly what has happened following the fatal shooting of a doctor at a Veterans Affairs clinic in El Paso, Texas. 

VA psychologist Timothy Fjordbak was shot and killed earlier this month on the fourth floor of the El Paso clinic.

An Iraq war veteran and former clinic employee, Jerry Serrato, took his own life that day at the facility. Authorities believe Serrato killed Fjordbak, the facility’s chief psychologist.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has promised to ramp up security at the El Paso clinic and other VA facilities.

The El Paso facility didn’t have any metal detectors. Following the shooting, it’s now checking IDs and baggage of 100% of entrants to the facility. Visitors also are hand-wanded for metal.

The VA says it will also:

  • announce a new policy for dealing with active shooters in the coming weeks
  • address staff shortages, and
  • install standardized security and surveillance systems (cameras, door alarms, motion detectors, central monitoring stations).

The El Paso shooting certainly isn’t the first suffered at a VA facility.

“Why has it taken this long to protect lives?” asked John Glidewell, former chief of police at the Cheyenne, WY, medical center.

Glidewell tells The Washington Post he’s been raising security issues for the 10 years he’s been with the VA Police. “The VA is ripe for a mass killing but no one is listening to us,” Glidewell said.

Glidewell filed complaints with various federal offices regarding security at VA facilities. He was removed from his duties in Cheyenne after posting criticism of the VA on his Facebook page. He’s on paid leave pending reassignment within VA.

Almost 4 times overall injury rate

The rate of nonfatal occupational injuries involving days away from work for healthcare and social assistance workers was 15 per 10,000 full-time workers in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The private industry rate overall is 4.

Surveys show anywhere between 35% and 80% of hospital staff have been physically assaulted at least once during their careers.

One state is reporting a significant increase of assaults of employees of hospitals. In Minnesota, the number of workers with assault claims resulting in workers’ comp benefits increased from 30 in 2007 to 109 in 2013. Preliminary figures for 2014 show the total will be close to the 2013 numbers.

Given these statistics, the results of a recent survey of risk managers at healthcare facilities is a bit surprising.

Aon asked what is the No. 1 concern of risk managers. Workplace violence didn’t even make the list.

When the question was expanded to their No. 1, 2 and 3 concerns, workplace violence finally shows up at 6%.

What tops the list? Patient handling (lifting) and materials handling (including needle sticks). Both are serious risks, and they’re something healthcare professionals are likely to face much more often than workplace violence.

On the other hand, as we’ve seen with the VA recently, all you need is one incident to bring workplace violence to the top of a priority list.

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