Workplace Violence

By on December 19, 2011
Posted In Employment, Labor

by Heather Egan Sussman, Arthur G. Sapper and Bethany K. Hatef

During the holiday season, stress can run high.  Holidays can bring less sleep, increased pressures and even family tension.  This can affect the workplace and increase the risk of confrontation or even violence.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued its first guidance directive regarding how OSHA will enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Act against workplace violence hazards. 

Over the past 15 years, OSHA notes, workplace violence has remained among the top four causes of occupational death.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace homicide was responsible for more than 3,000 occupational deaths between 2006-2010.

The directive defines “workplace violence” as “violent acts (including physical assaults and threats of assaults) directed toward persons at work or on duty.”  OSHA states that it will inspect workplaces based on whether there are known risk factors for workplace violence.  OSHA will focus on industries with high rates of workplace violence, particularly the healthcare and social services industries and late-night retail establishments.

Although OSHA has no regulations on workplace violence, OSHA may cite employers for workplace violence hazards under the general duty clause [Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act], and will require employers to consider workplace violence when complying with OSHA regulations governing the availability of medical services and first aid, and in writing emergency action plans.

As a result, employers, particularly those in high-risk industries, should ensure that they have a strong written workplace violence prevention program that includes training on violence prevention, and periodic auditing of measures designed to detect and prevent workplace violence.

To mitigate the risk of violence in your workplace, consider these tips:

  • Find ways to help employees manage stress during the holiday season.
  • Remind employees of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits.
  • Have procedures in place to quickly respond to and defuse incidents. 
  • Ensure employees feel comfortable reporting workplace violence incidents.

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