Articles Posted in Workplace Accidents

In the summer of 2009, a man walked into an Old Navy store in downtown Chicago where his girlfriend worked, pulled out a gun, shot her to death, and then killed himself. Police called the incident a “domestic dispute.” Not only did Old Navy have to deal with the public relations nightmare the incident caused, the family of the murdered employee soon filed a lawsuit against the company. The suit alleges that the shooting could have been prevented and that store management knew of threats against the employee and failed to act. It also alleged that the store’s security measures were outdated because the boyfriend was able to enter the store through a private employee entrance and then gain access to a restricted employee area, where he committed the murder-suicide.

Incidents of workplace violence such as this one have become an increasingly problematic phenomenon in recent decades. According the bureau of Labor Statistics, 11,613 people were killed between 1992 and 2006 in incidents of workplace violence. On average, 1.7 million people are victims of violent crime while working or on duty in the United States every year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as “any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.” The workplace can be any location “where an employee performs any work-related duty.” This includes buildings, parking lots, clients’ homes, and travel to and from work assignments.While it would seem that the blame for workplace violence would most naturally fall on the perpetrators, employers also face various legal liabilities when their employees or customers are victims.

There are several methods by which an employer can be held liable for incidents of workplace violence, outlined below.

ExxonMobil Corp. has been fined $165,000 by federal regulators for safety violations over an explosion that occurred in 2016 at a large oil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The  United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a total of nine citations, including citations for inadequate training and equipment maintenance at the aging facility. Exxon has stated that it is contesting OSHA’s most recent findings and the fines the agency imposed.

The facility in question is an alkylation unit that makes octane-boosting components for gasoline. The explosion occurred on November 22, 2016, when a worker removed the cover of a malfunctioning valve on an isobutane line and used a wrench to turn the valve system. As the operator turned the valve system, portions of the valve fell out, releasing isobutane and igniting a welding machine 70 feet away. As a result of the explosion, one worker was knocked off a scaffold and left dangling over the fire, while another worker was burned over most of her body. In total, four workers were injured, two of them severely.

This is not the first time the Baton Rouge facility has drawn the federal government’s ire; he facility was faulted five years ago by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to address corrosion on pipes and valves and for inadequate shutdown and emergency procedures provided to workers.In 2012, the EPA inspected the Baton Rouge refinery as part of a risk management prevention program and found Exxon had not examined more than 1,000 underground pipes in five years, many of which were corroded, according to the agency’s report on the inspection. The EPA also found that emergency and shutdown procedures failed to provide needed details for operators.According to the latest OSHA citations, Exxon’s safety procedures and training for operators on the alkylation unit were lacking, equipment was not properly maintained, and required safety inspections were not carried out within the required time periods. Eight of the nine citations were listed as “series,” each carrying a fine of $12,675. The ninth fine was for failing to carry out external visual and ultrasonic inspections of piping, and carried a fine of $63,373. The ninth fine was much higher than the fines for the other citations because OSHA cited Exxon in 2016 for violating the same inspection standard at a mother of its refining facilities in Baytown, Texas

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