VSEA Press Release Questions VOSHA Decision Not To Issue Citation To DCF, Following Review Of DCF Safety Policies & Protocols

February 12, 2016

February 12, 2016



Citation Would Have Required “Reasonable Timetable” For Remedy


VSEA issued the following this morning:

Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) leaders and members are questioning VOSHA’s decision early this week to issue just a warning letter to DCF and not a formal citation, after completing an extensive review of Department for Children and Families’ (DCF) worker and workplace safety protocols in the wake of Lara Sobel’s murder.

“The letter VOSHA sent to the State documents many missed items and holes in DCF’s existing safety protocols, and it makes the layperson wonder when VOSHA would actually issue a citation."

VSEA says if a citation had been issued, in addition to levying fines, VOSHA, by statute [21 VSA§225 (a)], would be required to “fix a reasonable time for the abatement of the violation.” But the only timeline mentioned in VOSHA’s warning letter is a reminder to DCF that “VOSHA may return to your work site in approximately one year to further examine the conditions noted above.” In its letter, VOSHA also recommends that “the State voluntarily take the necessary steps to eliminate or materially reduce your employees’ exposure to the risk factors stated.”

“VOSHA’s failure to issue a citation in this instance is very disheartening.” says VSEA DCF Social Worker Trissie Casanova, who has been advocating this session at the State House to improve safety protections for frontline DCF workers. She adds, “A lot of the things VOSHA highlights in its letter are issues DCF employees have been talking about with management since January 2015.

VSEA President Dave Bellini agrees, adding, “Just last week, we read about the DCF office in Newport being on lock down after a threat, and, trust me, that’s not the only threat these offices are receiving. It seems time is kind of the essence here, and maybe if VOSHA had issued a citation, DCF would have been forced to act on some of these issues in a timely manner. The deficiencies in the letter warrant more than a visit in a year. The time to act is now.”

Bellini and Casanova are also asking what would cause OSHA to issue a citation(s), if its DCF findings did not warrant one or more.

“It does make you wonder,” says VSEA President Dave Bellini. “The letter VOSHA sent to the State documents many missed items and holes in DCF’s existing safety protocols, and it makes the layperson wonder when VOSHA would actually issue a citation. I would think things like safety policies not being fully developed, protocols not meeting minimum guidelines, no one being assigned responsibility for oversight, no annual review and incomplete record keeping might warrant more than a slap on the wrist and a directive for DCF to ‘voluntarily’ implement the many remedies offered by VOSHA. And that’s not even all the findings.”

Some of the other findings cited in the VOSHA letter include:

  • No comprehensive hazard analysis of the threat of violence in the workplace;

  • No evidence that comprehensive controls to address threats had been implemented in each worksite;

  • Training was not effective, and is being revised;

  • Deficiencies in the procedures and responsibilities that direct workers how to deal with a violent incident; and

  • Could not determine if an incident “Response Team” exists.

“The VOSHA letter shines an even brighter light on many of the safety issues and concerns frontline DCF workers want to see addressed before another one of us is harmed or worse,” says Casanova. “Implementing VOSHA’s recommendations may not be able to completely prevent another tragic death, but workers need to know that every measure that can be in place to protect us is in place and is fully operational.”

Read the VOSHA Letter Here



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