Sexual Harassment is a Four Letter ‘Word’ = OSHA
By Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, ASCP, CFS
In this day and age we may think our colleagues and employees are much more enlightened and therefore are surprised to hear of issues like sexual harassment occurring in our workplace. Bullying is something you hear about on the news in terms of middle school and high school students, but again, not in our workplace right? Sadly, no. Sexual harassment and bullying do indeed occur in our workplaces, too. In fact, it occurs frequently enough and is considered such a serious issue that it has landed on OSHA’s radar.
Traditionally, we have thought of sexual harassment as only a human resources matter- and it is indeed an HR issue. However, personnel managers need to understand it also crosses into the realm of workplace safety and that is an OSHA issue. In fact, as part of OSHA’s campaign against workplace violence it has expanded the case examples to include any type of harassment in that setting, be it harassment or bullying.
Let’s look at some of these definitions and examples and then look at how we can protect our clinics. Legal Definition of Harassment: “One type of illegal discrimination defined as offensive and unwelcome conduct, serious enough to adversely affect the terms and conditions of a person’s employment, which occurs because of the person’s protected class, and can be imputed to the employer. Protected classes in employment are race/color, creed (religion), national origin, sex, marital status, disability, HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C status, sexual orientation/gender identity, and honorably discharged veteran and military status. An example of harassment could be when an employee tells racist jokes and refers to a particular co-worker or group of co-workers by using racial slurs, and after a complaint, the employer does nothing to stop the behavior.” So what does this mean? Simply, no one has a right to discriminate, harass or bully another person. On a personal note, this reminds me of the two simple rules I had for my children when they were growing up. The first was: “Do not ever interfere with anyone’s right to learn, grow and live in a safe and healthy environment.” The second rule was: “Do not let anyone interfere with your right to learn, grow and live in a safe and healthy environment.”
Seems simple enough, and it boils down to the old respect each other as well as ourselves. Now, how do we translate this into a workplace policy? We need to be sure our employees understand that they do not have a right to bring their prejudices into the workplace. Nor do they allow themselves to be bullied by colleagues or management. This is important for our employees and colleagues as, for the first time in OSHA’s history, there have been more reports of workplace violations in bullying and harassment to OSHA in the last three years than for the previous most common issue of chemical safety. That tells us a lot. Today’s workers will not remain silent and do not always think that management will take enough of the proper steps to alleviate the situation.
Most HR managers are extremely uncomfortable dealing with sexual harassment issues, and it is indeed discomforting, but we must address it, and the best way to deal with it is a pro-active policy - a “nip it in the bud” approach to ensure it is clear that bullying and harassment, sexual or otherwise, is simply NOT tolerated. Steps to take to protect your practice:
1) Be aware of the fact that harassment is also an OSHA issue.
2) Be sure your employee handbook, as well as your Safety Manual, includes a section on workplace violence and
sensitivity issues that include harassment and bullying.
3) Clearly state a zero tolerance policy and that violations will result in reprimands, up to and including firing.
4) Include sensitivity training in your OSHA training.
5) Provide clear examples and guidelines of unacceptable behavior and working conditions.
6) Have in place a reporting system.
7) Act quickly and confidentially to ensure a quick and safe resolution.
8) Do not hesitate to seek outside help for employees in crisis.
Bullying and sexual harassment are serious issues that can damage the workplace environment. Be sure to seek help from outside resources if you are unsure of how to proceed to make your clinic safe from these destructive behaviors.
Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, CFS is a writer, educator, speaker and consultant. She is the nation’s leading veterinary regulatory control and OSHA expert. Her time spent in Washington D.C. as an advocate for the veterinary profession with OSHA and other regulatory agencies has resulted in many positive compliance changes for our industry. Her manuals and training programs are used by clinics and animal care facilities nationwide. She speaks at association meetings and conferences nationwide. Her well attended workshops are constantly praised as powerful resources for practice managers, veterinarians and their staffs.
Please feel free to contact her at Chery@ VetOSHA.com with your questions and visit her web site at www.VetOSHA.com
For information on Dr. Kendrick’s workshops and workbooks contact her at Kendrick Veterinary Consulting Group, LLC
865-405-4255 or Chery@VetOSHA.com
By Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, ASCP, CFS
Regulatory Specialist and Consultant
An employee is depressed; you know they are having problems at home.
What you don’t expect is their partner showing up at the clinic one day to continue an argument from the night before. You also didn’t expect them to show up with a gun.
Roxy is a sweet kitty but there is something that just doesn’t feel right about her owner.
Roxy’s owner blows up, becoming verbally abusive to you and your tech when you make a suggestion about feeding and treatment she doesn’t like. As she finally stomps out she pushes your tech who stumbles, hitting the side of her head open on the counter while she falls to the floor. Fourteen stitches and a concussion result, not to mention new worker’s comp claim and now this employee is calling OSHA as well as her attorney.
Mr. H is a wonderful client, always bringing his animals in on time for checkups and vaccinations.
He is a dream client who readily embraces all preventative health care measures you suggest. What you wish he didn’t try to embrace are your employees who are coming to you with concerns about inappropriate touching, remarks and now stalking behavior from Mr. H. Jen, a pretty pre-vet student, is being stalked off the job by Mr. H. He even showed up on her front porch with flowers for her and treats for her puppy. Jen was especially freaked out when she went to close the front drapes the other evening before heading to bed and saw him parked across the street watching her from his car with binoculars. She called her dad who is a local sheriff deputy. Investigators then showed up at your door.
One of your partners is known for his temper.
He is especially touchy one day and throws an instrument across the room breaking the glass jar holding the 4 x 4’s which sends a glass shard into the cheek of one of your techs. Fortunately it is a superficial wound and didn’t hit her eye and the Chlorhex that spilled all over the counter did not damage any equipment or documents. This is not however the first time this associate has thrown things and otherwise shown aggressive, out of control behavior at the clinic. At a meeting later in the week a colleague comes up to you and asks you about the situation pointing out they had let him go two years ago for similar behavior.
These are all examples of workplace violence.
While you can control some potential workplace violence, for example that of your employees, by having a clear zero tolerance policy that is reflected and understood in your hiring and firing practices and employee handbook, it is not always as easy to prevent violence at the workplace when it comes from an external source.
These are all OSHA concerns. OSHA takes workplace violence very seriously especially due to the increase in incidents rising from domestic violence spill over into the workplace.
So what is your responsibility in terms of prevention? How far does your responsibility for employees extend outside of the office? And very importantly what is your liability?
OSHA is concerned with workplace violence from the following areas:
1) Employee on employee work-place violence
2) Employer vs. employee workplace violence
4) Drug seekers
6) Spillover from the neighborhood for example transients
7) Spillover from personal lives of staff in other words domestic violence
OSHA also states that the employer is responsible to provide a safe environment for their employees by providing a secure workplace and providing training. Training is to inform of potential hazards- including workplace violence and also to provide employees with the tools they need to protect themselves and prevent serious injury.
In terms of your responsibilities for employees outside of the workplace your liability is mitigated if you have in fact documented your training on workplace violence as well as documented and reported potentially dangerous behavior as it occurs.
One of the major concerns for OSHA in terms of workplace violence is domestic violence spillover.
There has been a dramatic increase in this type of incident in recent years. This can come in the form of significant others of staff members aggressing their partner at work, or even trying to sabotage your practice. Sabotage has come in the form of graffiti, physical damage to building and even equipment inside.
A new twist has been with social media: attacks on you, your clinic, your employees, your competency on social media venues such as FaceBook.
There can be serious “collateral” damage to other employees when for example another member of your team tries to step in to argument things can escalate to include injuries to that person. Spouses have been known to stalk the worker at the workplace as well as do physical damage to the building.
Stalking cases have also been increasing, some resulting in attacks. Stalking by clients has been the latest in this trend. It is usually a male stalking one of your female employees however it can also be other combinations: female on male, male on male female on female- it is all frightening and all potentially dangerous. Most are stalkers who start out as clients with obsessive “love” of animals- the ones who just hate abuse, want to kill abusers, and just so admire all you do to take care of the critters. They start asking about the little rescued kitties in the front cage with mom that are up for adoption and oh how about “those poor puppy mill dogs I saw on the news that animal control brought to you to evaluate and treat”. Their admiration of your caring for animals moves to a new level when they seek you out for questions. The next stage is their pursuing you outside of the clinic. You may live and work in a small enough town where you don’t automatically recognize the “coincidence” of the outside contact. But at some point you realize this is more than coincidence. You don’t know what to do though- you mention t to friends, mention to colleagues at work. But what if this is happening to one of your employees?
Again what is your responsibility in terms of prevention? How far does your responsibility for employees extend outside of the office?
Education and prevention are always the two keys for OSHA. Communication is essential: proactive and preemptive communication means encouraging employees to come to you immediately with concerns. Documenting the conversations with employees is essential to make sure you have a paper trail in case things escalate or become actionable.
Educating your staff on workplace violence and the potential sources as well as various situations is key.
Some clinics also invite in neighborhood police representatives to do a self defense training workshop as well as conflict resolution training.
The OSHA program I designed includes training on workplace violence issues as well as on dealing with difficult people. Included are specific examples and steps to work through possible scenarios, looking at the effectiveness of those different reactions.
OSHA also wants us to also look at prevention:
Are the doors and windows secured?
Does the public have easy access into the clinic?
Do you have an alarm system or panic button system?
How is the lighting around the outside of the building as well as in the parking area?
Do you use a buddy system for after-hours work?
Are your employees trained on workplace violence issues?
Workplace Violence has unfortunately become a serious concern and we all need to evaluate our training programs to make sure we include these issues. Communication will always be an important key to safety so make sure you communicate to your employees and that they know your door is always open for them to come to you with any concerns.
While we are not saying we need to become the babysitters or psychologists and marriage counselors of our staff what we are saying is a little bit of prevention and proactive action goes a long way in preventing an increasingly serious workplace hazard.
Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, CFS is a writer, educator, speaker and consultant. She is the nation’s leading veterinary regulatory control expert, and spends time in Washington D.C., advocating for the veterinary profession at the various regulatory agencies. Her manuals and training programs are used by clinics and animal care facilities nationwide. She speaks nationwide at association meetings and workshops. Please feel free to contact her with your questions or visit her web site at www.VetOSHA..com
Chery F. Kendrick, DVM
Please Note: the names and locations in examples have been changed to protect the identity of all concerned. Examples used are from real cases from veterinarians, techs and other clinic team members who have brought their concerns to Dr. Kendrick.
By: Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, CFS www.VetOSHA.com
As regulatory agencies go, OSHA is the leader in obfuscation and grey areas!
This year the changes in Chemical Hazard labeling and Safety Data Sheets requirements have definitely pushed even OSHA’s envelope. So as the dust settles from the flurry of last minute changes, rewrites of rewrites, and arguments pro and con, let’s summarize what we need to do.
1) Labeling All labeling of secondary containers (those spray bottles, soak boats, anything Not the original container) needs
to reflect the new GHS pictograms and signal words in terms of their potential hazard. If you use my copyright protected
OSHA and AAHA approved Secondary Container charts, then you are able to continue to simply write the name of the
chemical on the container, as long as the chart is posted and all employees have been trained on those pictograms and
(Note: if you don’t have the charts or GHS/Safety Data Sheet training then click here to order: Click Here to Order GHS Charts and GHS Training )
2) Safety Data Sheets (SDS) MSDS: Material Safety Data Sheets have been ‘renamed’: Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and even
more importantly their format has changed significantly! The new SDS are a beauty to read as they are all in the same
format, with a simple 15 category structure giving you precise information simply.
Our requirement is to make sure we have this new format SDS for all chemicals and drugs in our clinic, this also includes all cleaning supplies, and to train our employees on the new SDS format as opposed to the old MSDS.
Note that many drug and chemical companies are still dragging their feet in complying with this requirement, as their ‘drop dead’ date to have the new SDS in place is June 1, 2015, so there will be a last minute flurry of new SDS to add to your safety sheet library. Regardless of how many extensions chemical and drug companies receive from OSHA for their part of the changes, our deadline remained strict in that all training on the new GHS and SDS formats had to be complete by December 1, 2013. (Again if you still need to train your staff on the new GHS/SDS system feel free to check out our website at: GHS/SDS Training
3) Training All staff needs to be trained on the new GHS/SDS This training deadline was December 1, 2014 and while OSHA inspectors have been somewhat lenient with this requirement on past inspections they are now cracking down. Recent inspections have resulted in Veterinary practices receiving fines for inadequate training of as much as $35,000 and more depending on the size of the practice and number of employees.
4) Record Keeping The second change in OSHA requirements that caused quite a flurry of activity that applies to us has to do with record keeping. If you have 11 or more employees you must post a Summary of Illness and Injuries, form 300A from February 1- April 30 of each year And the new part of the record keeping requirements is as follows:
a. Report within 8 hours the hospitalization of Any employee due to work related illness or injury.
b. Report within 8 hours loss of limb of any employee due to work related accident/injury.
c. Report within 8 hours loss of eye of any employee due to work related accident/injury.
d. Report within 8 hours death of any employee due to work related accident/injury/illness.
5) Training OSHA training Must be done within 3 days of an employee beginning work and then repeated annually And additional training as new hazards introduced. Once the complete initial OSHA training has been completed for your team it is fine to then do monthly meetings on individual topics. Inspections OSHA budget has been approved to increase field inspectors and inspections by 48% this year and 53% for 2016.
Veterinary clinics remain targeted groups. Remember you have a right to Always be present for an OSHA inspection and have whomever you choose to be present for any inspection. You have a right to be treated with respect and to receive a full explanation of any potential fines and to appeal any fines. For the clinics that I am the OSHA Consultant for I actually prepare a laminated Inspection Protocol sheet for them to keep at the front desk to show any inspector. This way an inspector is immediately informed that you understand your rights, Plus it reminds your front desk staff to call You before allowing Anyone in the clinic for an inspection.
For more information on OSHA consulting click here: OSHA Consultants OSHA safety is always of concern to us, and I am still convinced that we as a profession maintain some of the safest work environments. Being informed of the continuous OSHA changes helps us stay one step ahead of those inspectors who may be out to catch us ‘off guard’ so they can make a nice quarterly bonus off of our clinics. Stay safe out there!
Write to me at Chery@VetOSHA.com As always please feel free to contact me with any OSHA questions or concerns. Chery 865-405-4255 www.VetOSHA.com Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, CFS is a writer, educator, speaker and consultant. She is the nation’s leading veterinary regulatory control and OSHA expert. Her time spent in Washington D.C. as an advocate for the veterinary profession with OSHA and other regulatory agencies has resulted in many positive compliance changes for our industry. Her manuals and training programs are used by clinics and animal care facilities nationwide. She has the only GHS compliance program specifically for the veterinary practice and designed the most widely used Compassion Fatigue Prevention program used nationwide.
She speaks at association meetings and conferences and clinics across the country as well as holds workshops and retreats in her beautiful Smokey Mountains of Eastern TN. Her well attended workshops are constantly praised as powerful resources for veterinarians, and their practice managers and staff.
Her new Website www.VetOSHA.com is a unique online resource for the veterinary practice.
There you will find an OSHA store specifically for the veterinary practice, as well as information on onsite consulting services, and the new On-Demand Training!
For information on Dr. Kendrick’s onsite OSHA consulting services, manuals, training programs, charts and safety supplies please visit the Website, call her at 865-405-4255 or email: Chery@VetOSHA.com
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