Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Employers Fight Oklahoma Gun Law

The Labor Department's annual census of workplace deaths, released this fall, shows that homicide in the workplace took the lives of 631 people in 2003. That's 11 percent of the total 5,559 workplace fatalities the government recorded for the year. The good news: The 2003 figure represents the second-lowest incidence of murder in the workplace since the government started keeping track in 1992. The lowest incidence (609) was in 2002, while the highest (1,080) occurred in 1994.

So, if workplace murders are trending downward, why is Oklahoma making it legal to bring firearms to work? A new state law permits it, provided the bearer leaves the weapon in a locked car on the employer's property.

In response, employers including energy companies ConocoPhillips and the Williams Cos. filed suit, asking a federal court to overturn the law because it violates a property-owner's right to exclude anyone with a weapon and thus preserve workplace safety, The Associated Press reports. Tulsa police officials concur, telling Tulsa TV station KOTV they fear the law will lead to an increase in workplace violence.

The federal district court has issued a temporary restraining order, putting the law on hold, while a higher court rules on whether violations of the new law are criminal or civil, according to AP.

Oklahoma lawmakers advocated for its passage by saying that workers should be able to protect themselves, for example, during late-night commutes. "A lot of these businesses have late-night shifts, and these employees are subject to being violated by any type of predator that may be armed," Democratic State Sen. Frank Shurden, a coauthor of the law, told AP.
Paul Viollis, a workplace violence prevention expert and president of New York-based Risk Control Strategies, calls the firearms-OK-at-work law irresponsible. "I have no doubt that any state that permits an employee to bring a loaded firearm to work will affect the rise of workplace violence. Legally permitting American citizens to go to work and bring a loaded firearm is ludicrous," he says.

He adds that while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration gives employers the right to enforce restrictions on firearms in the workplace, this new Oklahoma law creates a burden on the CSO working to keep employees safe.

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