The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited private prison operator The GEO Group Inc. with six safety and health violations, including one willful, for exposing employees to workplace violence and failing to take adequate measures to reduce the risk of violence following a December 2011 inspection stemming from a complaint about its Meridian correctional facility.
Proposed penalties total $104,100.
The company’s East Mississippi correctional facility houses 1,318 low, medium and high security inmates, as well as inmates with mental illness.
“This employer knowingly put workers at risk of injury or death by failing to implement well-recognized measures that would protect employees from physical assaults by inmates,” said Clyde Payne, OSHA’s area director in Jackson. “Prisons may be inherently dangerous workplaces, but the employer is still required to take every reasonable precaution to protect corrections officers and other staff against safety and health hazards, including assaults.”
A willful safety violation has been cited, with a $70,000 penalty, for failing to knowingly provide adequate staffing, fix malfunctioning cell door locks or provide required training to protect employees from incidents of violent behavior by inmates, including stabbings, bites and other injuries. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
One repeat health violation, with a $16,500 penalty, also has been cited for failing to conduct medical evaluations for workers required to wear respirators. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. A similar violation was cited in November 2010 at GEO’s Pompano Beach, Fla., facility.
Two serious health and one serious safety violation, carrying a total of $17,600 in penalties, include failure to conduct a fit test for employees required to wear respirators, have a written exposure control plan for employees exposed to bloodborne pathogens and complete a personal protective equipment hazard assessment. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
One other-than-serious safety violation has been cited for failing to provide a written energy control procedure for workers exposed to electrical shock hazards. No penalty was assessed. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
The GEO Group Inc. is a correctional and detention organization with approximately 80,000 beds and 116 facilities located in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.