El Dorado deputy pushes job safety

El Dorado County sheriff's deputy Todd Crawford is helping 1,600 county employees feel safer at work.

A workplace safety team has been in place since 1999. But Crawford was recently assigned to inspect and instruct county offices about possible reconfiguration to increase workers' protection.

Crawford said his suggestions include recommending a new door, changing the placement of desks, and telling employees how to deal with customers.

"From the building department to the tax collector, there is the potential for people to be angry at almost every counter," said Sheriff Jeff Neves.

Crawford tends to visit more offices on the West Slope, since there is a higher population of county offices, but hasn't shied away from county offices at South Lake Tahoe.

Workers are being protected from clients and their co-workers.

In a 2000 Gallup poll titled "Attitudes in the American Workplace," half the people polled were affected by stress. It stated 25 percent of workers felt like yelling at work, 14 percent had urges to hit a co-worker, and 10 percent worried about a co-worker lashing out violently.

In a separate question, nearly 20 percent were aware of a threat or a verbal intimidation during previous year.

Sheriff Neves couldn't recall a homicide inside a county office. He did remember a time about two years ago when a woman who was involved in a heated argument with a boyfriend was moved away from the counter. Her desk was placed out of sight of customers and her boyfriend, who demanded to see her at work.

The man went to his car, where he waited for the woman. Deputies were called and apprehended him. A gun was found in his vehicle, Neves said.

"While that's an extreme situation, those things can occur," he said.

Kathleen Burne, director of the county's mental health department, said every county employee is required to attend a daylong training session on workplace-violence prevention.

"I think there is more awareness and more attention being paid to it at a county level that employees need to be safe in their working environment," Burne said.


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