Putting a Stop to Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening or disruptive behavior that occurs at your worksite.

Threats and verbal abuse, as well as physical assaults, obviously affect employees, clients, customers and visitors. Homicides are currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

It’s a major issue. Indeed, Richard M. Reice, a partner in the law firm of Hoguet Newman Regal & Kenney, LLP, who specializes in labor and employment issues, says, “Perhaps spurred on by current events, government regulators and companies have grown increasingly sensitive to the issue of workplace violence.  Today, companies are devoting more resources to workplace violence prevention. They are implementing prevention policies,  increasing training, and making prevention a core company value.”

However workplace violence manifests itself, it is a major concern for you and your employees. Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence:

  • Exchanging money with the public.
  • Working with volatile, unstable people.
  • Working alone or in isolated areas.
  • Working where alcohol is served.
  • Time of day and location of work — working late at night or in areas with high crime rates.

Those at the highest risk:

  • Delivery drivers.
  • Health care professionals.
  • Public-service workers.
  • Customer service agents.
  • Law enforcement personnel.

How can workplace violence risk be reduced?

Minimize risk of assault by taking appropriate precautions:

  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy on workplace violence. This policy should cover all workers, clients, visitors, contractors and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel.
  • Identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents, which include a well-written and implemented workplace violence prevention program combined with engineering and administration controls, as well as training.
  • You can implement a separate workplace violence prevention program or incorporate one into your safety and health program. Consider including it in your employee handbook or manual of standard operating procedures.
  • Small businesses may contact OSHA’s free on-site consultation services to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites.
  • It’s critical to ensure that all workers know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.
  • Even better, get workers involved in the creation and operation of your violence prevention program. You may bring together a team to show your endorsement of and visible involvement in the plan.
  • Allocate authority and resources to responsible parties to access information, personnel, time, training, tools and/or equipment.

What are your responsibilities in ensuring workers’ rights?

Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires you to provide employees with safe and healthful workplaces. You are prohibited from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights.

You can reach out to your regional or area OSHA office. There are listings of OSHA offices by state on the web.

Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect the workplace if they believe OSHA standards aren’t being followed or if there are serious hazards.

Realize that you need to train management and staff to recognize escalating hostile and assaultive behavior, and work hard to undermine any perception that violence is tolerated or that victims won’t be able to report the incident to the police or press charges.

Your workplace violence prevention program should require regular reassessment and adjustment to respond to changes in your organization — expansion of a facility or changes of managers, clients or procedures.

Check applicable state requirements. Several states have passed legislation and developed requirements to address workplace violence.

Acknowledge the value of a safe and healthful violence-free workplace. Ensure and exhibit commitment to workers and clients by assigning responsibility and authority to managers and supervisors so that all understand their obligations. Maintain a system of accountability; support and implement appropriate recommendations from your workplace violence prevention team.

You may want to establish a comprehensive program of medical and psychological counseling and debriefing for workers who have experienced or witnessed assaults or other violent incidents, ensuring that trauma-informed care is available.

If facility inspections are implemented, you may want to respond to recommendations for corrective strategies by:

  • Redesigning facilities to remove a hazard or place a barrier between the worker and the hazard.
  • Identifying daily activities that employees believe put them most at risk.
  • Providing continuing education on reducing workplace violence incidents.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of controls to improve, expand or update your workplace violence program.

OSHA works with businesses to develop compliance assistance tools and resources. There’s even an OSHA Training Institute to provide basic and advanced training and education.