OSHA Guidelines for Workplace Violence

by Julie Davoren
Threats to the safety of business associates and employees can lead to workplace violence.

Threats to the safety of business associates and employees can lead to workplace violence.

Workplace violence affects nearly two million Americans each year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Examples of workplace violence that occur across the country include physical threat, intimidation, harassment and disruptive behaviors. Employees, clients, visitors and customers are sometimes subject to verbal abuse, physical assaults and homicide. Workplace violence guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) aim to help organizations prevent such events.

General Duty Clause

OSHA's general duty clause requires employers to provide a safe work environment for employees. Likewise, employees must comply with occupational health and safety rules. The administration provides workplace consultations, voluntary protection programs, grants, strategic partnerships, training and education for employers and employees. OSHA’s safety and health management program guide provides information on critical elements of successful preventive programs. It also provides directives for investigating and inspecting workplace violence and prevention of violence in late-night establishments.

Risk Factors

No company is immune to workplace violence, as it can happen anywhere, at anytime; however, some factors can increase the likelihood that an incident will occur. Workers who deal with exchanging money with the public and work with unpredictable and capricious people are in a high-risk environment. Isolated working environments are also potential risk zones. Working in establishments that serve alcohol also can be harmful to workers. Night shifts render policing difficult and can give rise to unprecedented workplace discords. Risky professions include those that deal with cash transactions, delivery of material or goods, healthcare, public service and law enforcement.

Violence Reduction

If risk of violence can be predicted or recognized early on, employers can take certain precautions to prevent it. Zero tolerance policy best suits such environments and should cover all workers, clients, visitors, contractors and vendors. Follow OSHA's guidelines to analyze the risk factors in your environment and take steps to reduce potential risks. You also can use these guidelines to help you deal with occurrences effectively. Workplace violence is considered a hazard, and if your company fails to reduce or eliminate serious hazard, OSHA can cite you for violation of the general duty clause.

Violence Prevention Programs

OSHA recommends violence prevention programs because they are instrumental in reducing workplace violence. These programs should be clear and specific and must be shared with and understood by all employees. For violence prevention programs to work, all employees must be involved with the program; therefore, ensure that the program stresses no tolerance for retaliation against employees who report incidences. It is also crucial to liaise with law enforcement authorities who can help reduce and respond to incidents. Maintain records of all incidents, and periodically review incidents and your violence prevention program to ensure that you are taking precautions to avoid future occurrences.

Employer Role

As a business owner, you must take initiative in preventing violence at your worksites. Encourage employees to report incidents and threats immediately and log them. If required, provide medical evaluation and treatment immediately to affected parties and file reports of the incident with the local police. Inform victims of their rights in prosecuting the person responsible for the crime. Encourage employees to share details of the event so as to prevent future occurrences, and provide post-trauma counseling if applicable. Thoroughly investigate the incident and institute suitable changes in your prevention program. Security is an enormous factor in ensuring workplace safety. For example, you can install electronic surveillance and provide safes for keeping money and mobile phones for field staff, and for employees that work in isolated areas or work late-night shifts, provide guard services to ensure their safety.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images