Conference Focuses Attention on Workplace Security

In a breakthrough event, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health hosted the first-ever conference on workplace security on April 13. Nearly 800 participants-including representatives of management, labor, government, insurance, and the security industry-attended the day-long conference at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City.

DOSH conducted the conference in recognition of the growing problem of workplace violence. Several recent violent incidents in California have focused attention on the subject.

The Division of Labor Statistics and Research reports that 25 percent of workplace deaths in California during 1992 were homicides.

DOSH organized the conference as an information-sharing function at which a diverse group of experts could exchange knowledge and perspectives on workplace security.

Following a welcoming address from Lloyd W. Aubry Jr, Director of DIR, the morning session consisted of presentations by a panel of experts. Speakers were: Jess F. Kraus, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health and head of the Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center; S. Anthony Baron, Ph.D., chairperson and chief executive officer of the Scripps Center for Quality Management and executive director of the Scripps Institute Crisis Solutions Division; Gary Mathiason, attorney with the law firm of Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff, Tichy, and Mathiason and head of the firm's attorney task force on preventing workplace violence; Richard Mainey, director of security for International Business Machines; and Bill Borwegan, MPH, founder and director of the Occupational Safety and Health Department of the Service Employees International Union in Washington D.C.

For the afternoon session, participants broke into smaller workshop groups. Workshops on different aspects of workplace security were geared to professional affiliation:

According to Dr. John Howard, DOSH Chief, the emphasis of the conference was on risk factors and preventive measures for workplace violence. The exchange of information in the workshops provided DOSH and all participants a broader understanding of the scope of workplace violence. Although the intent of the conference was not to draft new regulations or legislation, the information gathered will help DOSH efforts to address workplace security. Howard added that the number of participants far exceeded expectations, underscoring the widespread interest in workplace security.

Two significant facts emerged from the conference.

First, a clear understanding of the scope of workplace violence does not exist. While attention has been paid to violent acts that result in fatalities, a data gap exists. Non-fatal physical harm and non-physical trauma from verbal assaults and threats are not currently counted.

Second, it became clear from information presented at the conference that two types of workplace violence problems exist. In both cases, the hazard is a human agent-as opposed to a biologic, physical or chemical agent, as is the case in traditional occupational safety and health matters. Hazard control involving human agents is inherently difficult because of the spectrum of human variability.

Type 1 situations cause the greater number of fatalities. These situations usually involve a stranger to the workplace who enters the workplace with criminal intent. Risk factors depend on the character of the workplace. For instance, locations with readily-available cash on hand and one employee-such as taxicabs and twenty-four-hour convenience or liquor stores-are at greatest risk.

However, since these are risk factors for attracting criminal activity, employers view them more as law enforcement matters than as occupational safety and health issues. Howard emphasized that a main objective of the conference was to change the perception of workplace violence so that it is seen as an occupational safety and health issue as well as a law enforcement problem.

Many Type 1 cases rest outside of DOSH jurisdiction. Often taxicab drivers are independent contractors, and convenience or liquor stores are owned and operated by self-employed proprietors. While DOSH authority covers employees, it does not extend to independent contractors or owners/employers.

Type 2 situations account for a very small percentage of workplace fatalities, and the larger number of non-fatal incidents. Usually in these cases the perpetrator is known and has an employment connection with the workplace. The perpetrator is an employee or manager, or a former employee or manager, or the spouse or other close relative of an employee or manager.

Conference attendees learned that preventive measures for Type 1 situations may mean making changes in work practices and personal protective equipment. Type 2 situations are more complex, may involve psychological and social aspects of the workplace and interaction between people.

For further information on the DOSH Conference on Workplace Security, please contact the Division of Occupational Safety and Health at (415) 703-4341 or write to DOSH at 455 Golden Gate Ave, Fifth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94102.