OSHA Directs Employers To Address Workplace Violence

On September 8, 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its first directive on Enforcement Procedures for Investigating or Inspecting Workplace Violence Incidents. The directive provides guidelines and general policies and procedures that apply when OSHA investigators conduct an inspection under a national, regional or local emphasis program or in response to incidents of workplace violence.

The directive acknowledges that workplace violence is a recognized occupational hazard in some industries. Violence “has remained among the top four causes of death at work for over fifteen years, and it impacts thousands of workers and their families annually.” Those industries with high incidence of workplace violence include healthcare, social service settings and late-night retail establishments. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 3,000 people died from workplace homicide between 2006 and 2010. Furthermore, BLS data indicates that an average of more than 15,000 nonfatal workplace injury cases was reported annually during this time. Workplace homicides remained the number one cause of workplace death for women in 2009.

The directive classifies workplace violence into four categories: 1) criminal intent (violent acts by people who enter the workplace to commit a robbery or other crime—or current or former employees who enter the workplace with the intent to commit a crime); 2) customer/client/patients (violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates or any others to whom the employer provides a service); 3) co-worker (violence against co-workers, supervisors, or managers by a current or former employee, supervisor, or manager); and 4) personal (violence in the workplace by someone who does not work there, but who is known to, or has a personal relationship with, an employee).

The directive indicated that, generally, an inspection will not be considered in response to coworker or personal threats of violence because, among other reasons, such incidents are usually random and unexpected and not recognized by industry.

According to OSHA, several studies have shown that prevention programs can reduce incidents of workplace violence.  OSHA encourages employers to conduct an analysis of worksites and adopt and implement a written Workplace Violence Prevention Program. The program is to have engineering controls, administrative controls and training which can reduce the incidence of workplace violence.

While there is no standard addressing workplace violence, employers may be found in violation of the general duty clause if they fail to reduce or eliminate serious recognized hazards. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. Other standards that may be implicated include: 29 CFR 1960.8(a) (Executive Order 12196, Section 1-201(a) for Federal facilities [the General Duty Clause for Federal agencies]); 29 CFR 1904 (Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses); 29 CFR 1910.151 (Medical Services and First Aid); 29 CFR 1926.23 (First Aid and Medical Attention); 29 CFR 1926.35 (Employee Emergency Action Plans).