A Boca-Raton, Fla.-based prison management company has entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Labor Department that requires it to make sweeping changes across all of its facilities to better protect correctional officers, guards, and other prison staff from workplace violence.
U.S. safety regulators cited GEO Group Inc. in June 2012 for numerous workplace safety violations at a prison facility it manages in Meridian, Miss. GEO specializes in correctional, detention, and community re-entry services with 95 facilities, approximately 73,000 beds, and 18,000 employees around the world.
The company’s safety violations involved its failure to hire a sufficient number of correctional officers; fix broken cell door locks; and provide required training and protective equipment to help safeguard employees from violent behavior by inmates. Inspectors found prison staff at the GEO-run prison were at high risk of being stabbed, bitten, or injured some other way as the result of unsafe working conditions.
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) agreed to downgrade the violations from “willful” to “serious” and fine GEO just $13,600, the company is bound by the agreement to take a number of measures that will improve the safety of its workers.
According to the agreement, GEO must hire a third-party consultant to develop and maintain a workplace violence prevention program and conduct onsite workplace violence safety audits at all of the 42 correctional and adult detention facilities it manages across the country. GEO must also create a corporate-level workplace violence coordinator position and develop a safety committee at each of its facilities.
According to OSHA, homicide is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. Of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.
Sadly, among correctional officers and jailers, the rate of injury from workplace violence is more than 23 times the rate of violence-related injury in the rest of the private sector, state, and local government jobs combined. More than 2 million American workers are violently assaulted and injured in the workplace every year, and many more cases go unreported, according to OSHA. Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.