On September 8, 2011 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its first written enforcement directive specifically addressing the problem of workplace violence. The directive established general policy guidelines and procedures for field offices to apply when conducting inspections in response to incidents of workplace violence. It identified the most susceptible industries to this kind of hazard, highlighted the steps that should be taken when reviewing incidents and when to initiate an inspection. This gives some documented connection to the general duty clause which is the enforceable regulation section of the OSH Act.
The directive established four categories of workplace violence based upon the aggressor’s relationship to the organization: 1. Criminal intent (violent acts by people who enter the workplace to commit a violent crime) 2. Customer/client/patient who directs acts of violence against employees 3. Co-worker (violence against an employee by a current or former employee, and 4. Personal (violence by a non employee against an employee with whom they have a personal relationship). This is significant in that most people’s perception of what workplace violence could include may not encompass all of these types of incidents. A company, or organization, has to account for the reasonable foreseeability of any of these happening in their workplace because OSHA may regard them as a “recognized hazard.”
The directive also established three different industries which OSHA considers to be at high risk for workplace violence incidents: 1. Health care facilities 2. Social services settings, and 3.Late night retail settings. Then, OSHA further identified numerous risk factors which need to be considered when evaluating the potential for workplace violence:
- Working with unstable or volatile persons in certain healthcare, social service or criminal justice settings
- Working alone or in small numbers
- Working late at night or during early morning hours
- Working in high crime areas
- Guarding valuable property or possessions
- Working in community-based settings, such as community mental health clinics, drug abuse treatment clinics, pharmacies, community –care facilities and long-term care facilities
- Exchanging money in certain financial institutions
- Delivering passengers, goods or services
- Having a mobile workplace such as a taxicab
The other guideline which OSHA established in this directive is the consideration for feasible means available to the employer to abate the hazard. These include the following suggested abatement methods in general:
- Conduct a workplace violence hazard analysis
- Assess any plans for new construction or physical changes to the facility or workplace to eliminate or reduce security hazards
- Provide employees with training on workplace violence
- Implement “Engineering Controls”
- Implement “Administrative Controls”
- Provide management support during emergencies and respond promptly to all complaints
- Develop a written, comprehensive workplace violence prevention program
There are many specific examples given for some of these suggestions as well as additional abatement suggestions for the specific industries listed above as high risk industries.
Though the directive is primarily intended as a tool for the Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHO’s), Area Directors, District Supervisors and other OSHA officials, it also serves to put organizations on notice. Especially those which the directive identifies as high risk, or are subject to high risk factors. They have put some definition into the workplace violence problem from the perspective of enforcing the existing general duty clause which all employers should be aware of. Now the responsibility is clearly on the employer to; do their research; identify potential for problems; explore feasible solutions or prevention measures; and get out of denial.
Employers have always had the potential civil liability hanging over their heads regarding workplace violence incidents. They have always had the social responsibility to reasonably protect their employees. Now they have a Federal compliance standard to address that has some teeth. Enlisting the help of a professional service provider with specialists in this area is going to be critical. IMAC can be your solution. Call me directly at 440.878.5114 if you would like to discuss this issue and your need to prepare your organization and educate your workforce. See www.imac-training.com for the full series of courses on workplace violence prevention.