OSHA directive addresses workplace violence

published in McAfee & Taft RegLINC | November 1, 2011

By Vickie Buchanan

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a directive on “Enforcement Procedures for Investigating or Inspecting Workplace Violence Incidents.” Workplace violence is any act or threat of aggression, physical assault, harassment, intimidation or other threatening behavior that occurs at a worksite. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. Broad definitions of workplace violence also often include acts of sabotage on worksite property.

Workplace violence is a recognized occupational hazard in some industries and environments, including in healthcare and social service settings and late-night retail establishments. OSHA reports that approximately 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence every year, with many incidents going unreported. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries reports that of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides. Overall, homicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries and is shockingly the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.

The directive is OSHA’s first publication regarding its policies and procedures for investigations and inspections of workplace violence incidents. The directive applies “OSHA-wide” and became effective on September 8, 2011. The directive is intended to be guidance for OSHA inspectors; however, it also provides general recommendations to employers in all industries and administrative workplaces. Though OSHA does not have a workplace violence standard, employers may be found in violation of the “General Duty Clause” (Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act) if they fail to furnish their employees with a place of employment which is free from “recognized hazards.” To that end, the directive encourages employers to “use any one or combination of the following abatement methods to materially reduce or eliminate the hazard of workplace violence:”

Conduct a workplace violence hazard analysis

  • Provide employees with training on workplace violence
  • Determine whether physical changes to the workplace setting or facility could eliminate or reduce security hazards

Implement engineering controls

  • Install and maintain alarm systems and other security systems such as panic buttons, noise devices, cell phones or private channel radios and provide a reliable response system to these alarms
  • Install closed-circuit recording on a 24-hour basis for high-risk areas and curved mirrors at hallway intersections or concealed areas
  • Install bright lighting indoors and outdoors
  • Limit access by keeping doors and windows locked
  • Maintain all vehicles used in the field

Implement administrative controls

  • Alter or implement work practices and policies to reduce exposure to security hazards
  • Establish liaisons with local law enforcement and state prosecutors
  • Report all incidents of violence and train employees to report all threats of violence to a supervisor or manager and maintain records of all such reports
  • Advise employees of company procedures for requesting police assistance or filing charges when assaulted and assist employees in doing so, if necessary

Provide management support during emergencies and respond promptly to all complaints

  • Establish a trained response team to respond to emergencies
  • Utilize properly trained security officers to handle aggressive behavior
  • Follow written security procedures

Develop a written, comprehensive workplace violence prevention program, which should include:

  • A policy statement regarding potential violence in the workplace and assignment of oversight and prevention responsibilities
  • A workplace violence hazard assessment and security analysis
  • Development of workplace violence controls and abatement methods
  • A record-keeping system designed to report violent incidents and to be utilized by employers in recognizing incident trends
  • Development of a workplace training program addressing workplace violence incidents
  • Annual review of the workplace violence prevention program
  • Development of procedures and responsibilities to be taken in the event of a violent incident in the workplace
  • Development of a response team responsible for immediate care of victims, re-establishment of work areas and processes, and providing debriefing sessions with victims and co-workers.

Additional information can be found here at OSHA’s new web page devoted to preventing workplace violence