Is workplace violence a safety issue?

Date Posted: 05/23/2019
Workplace Violence

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health identifies four categories of common workplace violence: criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker, and personal relationships. All four can occur in the workplace, and two million Americans report having been victims of workplace violence each year.

Until 2016, workplace violence was an issue for a company’s Human Resource (HR) department. OSHA has recognized that it must address this growing issue besides publishing best practice guidance. OSHA has previously issued guidance for late-night retail establishments, taxi and for-hire drivers, and healthcare employers.

On December 7, 2016, OSHA published a request for information (RFI) in the Federal Register to obtain feedback on whether it should create standards to prevent workplace violence in high-risk industries.

What is OSHA doing now?

On January 10, 2017, based on information received from its 2016 RFI, OSHA published a directive instructing officers to cite employers who fail to address workplace violence training and prevention. The directive is focused on industries with a high incidence of workplace violence such as:

  • Healthcare,
  • Social service settings,
  • Taxi driving,
  • Late-night retail establishments, and
  • Corrections facilities.

This directive does not exclude other industries, like general and construction industry employers. Depending on the nature of workplace violence identified, OSHA may consider a company to have notice of foreseeable workplace violence hazards.

Most companies are addressing workplace violence through their HR department. Make sure it's proactively addressed throughout your organization and at new hire safety orientation too. Often, HR related issues are confidential and the safety department may not know about certain incidents that cumulatively would create foreseeable workplace violence hazards.

OSHA can initiate a workplace violence related inspection:

  • In response to a compliant, referral, or catastrophic event; and
  • To conduct a programmed inspection focused on foreseeable workplace violence hazards.

Can OSHA cite you for workplace violence?

Although OSHA does not have a specific standard for workplace violence, employers have a duty to address workplace hazards and create a safe working environment for employees. Employers could be held responsible for having a workplace violence plan and training workers on it. Other possible citations can stem from:

  • Lack of proper training related to workplace violence when identified as a hazard,
  • Lack of an emergency action plan when required by an OSHA standard,
  • Failure to follow an emergency action plan when in place, and
  • Failure to identify or address foreseeable workplace violence hazards.

OSHA states that when an employer has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators showing that the potential for violence in the workplace exists, the employer is on notice of foreseeable workplace violence hazards it needs to address.

Employers who have workplace violence hazards should implement a prevention program combined with engineering controls, administrative controls, and training to fulfill their obligations.

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