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California moving forward with broad workplace violence, marijuana rules


The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is moving to create a new safety standard to prevent and handle workplace violence for general industries — a move experts say will put the state ahead of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The state is also drafting workplace safety rules for the burgeoning marijuana industry.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, OSHA announced its intention to pursue a standard specifically for prevention of workplace violence in the health care and social assistance sectors, but the Trump administration moved the proposal to its long-term action list, where federal safety experts expect it to languish.

“California is taking on a strong stance,” said Alka Ramchandani, a senior associate and employment attorney in the San Francisco office for Jackson Lewis P.C.

The rise in workplace violence incidents — including two well-publicized incidents in California in recent years — is pushing the state to create standards for how employers must protect their employees, she said, adding, “This is a real hot button issue.”

According to a draft of Cal/OSHA’s proposed rules, the standards that will serve to protect individuals in all industries closely resembles standards enacted in April 2017 to prevent violence in the health care sector. These rules helped spur the creation of a regulation that will work for cover all employees in California, according to Ms. Ramchandani.

The draft, similar in scope to the health care standard, includes details on procedures for responding to an event, how to work with law enforcement, designating persons responsible for implementing safety responses, record-keeping and more.

“While they were in the process of creating those (violence prevention standards for health care workers) they started to realize, what about everybody else?” she said.

Mark A. Lies, a Chicago-based partner for Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P., said other states are looking at similar measures given statistics that show workplace violence to be a growing safety concern for employers.

Most states follow OSHA’s “general duty clause” to provide workers with a safe environment, which Mr. Lies said does not go far enough.

“We know workplace violence is the number one killer of women in the workplace and the No. 3 (killer) overall,” he said. “One of the reasons that you are seeing states like California do what they are doing is to fill in the vacuum.”

California is also drafting workplace safety rules for the burgeoning marijuana industry, as the substance is now legal for recreational use as of 2018. Cal/OSHA’s pending rules will likely address second-hand marijuana smoke, potential risks for fire and explosion, potential risk of airborne contaminants, potential risk for robberies and other violent crimes and repetitive strain issues, according to an announcement from the agency.

“This is all new for California and there’s a need for specific regulations on cannabis,” said Ms. Ramchandani.

Another issue on the agenda for Cal/OSHA is the creation of safety standards for indoor heat illness and prevention that will likely provide better guidance for heat safety for a myriad of industries, according to Ms. Ramchandani, naming “kitchens, manufacturing, refineries, factories, retail, and other warehouses, and constructions sites” as industries most likely affected.

“They have always had it for agriculture (outdoors), but now they are doing this,” said Mr. Lies.

Cal/OSHA Division has scheduled three advisory meetings within the next month to collect comments on these proposed standards.