New OSHA Directive Tackles Workplace Violence Concerns

Sept. 13, 2011
In the last 15 years, deaths resulting from workplace violence have ranked among the top four causes of occupational fatalities in American workplaces. In response to this serious threat to worker safety, OSHA released a new compliance directive on Sept. 8 that offers procedures for agency staff who respond to workplace violence cases or complaints.

The directive, Enforcement Procedures for Investigating or Inspecting Incidents of Workplace Violence, also establishes procedures for conducting inspections in industries such as late-night retail workplaces and health care and social service settings, which may be at a higher risk of workplace violence. A new Web page that focuses on preventing workplace violence offers additional help to employers working to address workplace violence issues.

“Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence at worksites,” the directive states. “Such factors include working with the public or volatile, unstable people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence. Handling money and valuables, providing services and care, and working where alcohol is served may also impact the likelihood of violence. Additionally, time of day and location of work, such as working late at night or in areas with high crime rates, are also risk factors that should be considered when addressing issues of workplace violence.”

More than 3,000 people died from workplace homicide between 2006 and 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additional BLS data indicate that an average of more than 15,000 nonfatal workplace injury cases was reported annually during this time.

Taking Precautions, Protecting Workers

A recent OSHA inspection of a Maine psychiatric hospital found more than 90 instances in which workers were assaulted on the job by patients from 2008 through 2010. OSHA cited the hospital for not providing its workers with adequate safeguards against workplace violence and proposed a fine of more than $6,000. The agency also has recently cited facilities in New York and Massachusetts where employees have been killed as a result of assaults.

“These incidents, and others like them, can be avoided or decreased if employers take appropriate precautions to protect their workers,” said OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels.

Studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and other organizations show that employers who implement effective safety measures can reduce the incidence of workplace violence. These measures include training employees on workplace violence, encouraging employees to report assaults or threats and conducting workplace violence hazard analyses. Other methods, such as using entrance door detectors or buzzer systems in retail establishments and providing adequately trained staff, alarms and employee “safe rooms” for use during emergencies in health care settings, can help minimize risk.

The workplace violence directive can be downloaded as a PDF. The agency also published two guideline documents for workplace violence for specific industries, which may be downloaded as PDFs: Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Service Workers and Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments.

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