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Human Safety Hazards: A Risk Family Employers Should Avoid

A city in Florida recently paid $100,000 to settle a negligence lawsuit brought by a hospital staffer who was injured when a bank robbing suspect attacked her in 2016. The woman claimed her injuries were caused by a police officer's "careless decision" to leave her alone with the suspect.

Police had taken the suspect to the hospital after he complained of back pain during his arrest. A police officer accompanied the suspect, but left the suspect alone with the hospital staff member in the X-ray room. The officer also removed the suspect's handcuffs once the suspect was in the X-ray room. 

The suspect asked staff if he could stand in order to move from the X-ray table to the bed, and they agreed. Once he stood up, he grabbed the staffer who was alone in the X-ray room with him. The suspect put her in a headlock, dragged her out of the room, beat her, and threatened her with scissors.

Staff alerted the police officer, who had been standing outside of the X-ray room, of the attack. The police officer told the suspect to drop the scissors, and the woman escaped. The police officer then shot the suspect in the shoulder and abdomen when he moved toward the officer.

The bank robbing suspect pled guilty to the robbery and the attack on the hospital staff member, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Katie Pohlman "Ocala paid hospital employee $100K to settle suit" (Oct. 26, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

Like the above health care facility, family employers are also responsible for the safety of their staff. For example, what if a family member brings to the home a person with a history of sexual assault and that person sexually assaults a staff member? It is likely that staff would seek redress from the family for inviting a danger into the workplace.

Consequently, invited guests and contractors in the home can prove to be a substantial risk to family employers. Family employers should take steps to limit the risk.

First, family employers should vet all contractors, new hires, and other individuals before they are invited into the workplace. All contractors should be bonded, and do not leave a single staff member alone in the house when meeting a new contractor or other individual with whom you are not well-acquainted.

Family employers should not hire staff members with a history of violence and should quickly dismiss any staff member that exhibits violence.

Train staff on what to do if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe around an individual in the workplace. Make sure staff knows how to use your reporting mechanism, but also tell them to leave the area right away and call 9-1-1 if they feel like they are in immediate danger.

Below are additional tips to improve the physical safety of staff when working in your home:

  • Make sure the workplace is safe and free of physical hazards. Task a supervisor with checking the work area each day for any wet spots, sharp objects, or other obstacles that could injure staff.
  • If there is a hazard in the home that cannot be removed, notify staff of the hazard and have staff sign a statement that they understand the risk and free the employer of liability.
  • Make sure staff is thoroughly trained on safe ways of working with any chemicals, dangerous equipment, or other hazards that they must deal with in performing their job duties.
  • Keep pets out of areas where staff works, if possible. If staff cares for animals, make sure the animals are well-trained and well-behaved. Never allow animals known to bite or attack near staff.
  • Have contractors perform work that requires skill or dangerous maintenance. For example, avoid having staff perform work on ladders, if possible.
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