As recent incidents have shown, workplace violence can strike anywhere and at any time. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nearly 2 million workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year. While nothing can guarantee that an employee will not become a victim, there are steps employers can take to reduce the likelihood of workplace violence.
What Is Workplace Violence?
Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at or outside the workplace. It can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. Workplace violence can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide.
Who Is at Risk of Workplace Violence?
Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites. Such factors include exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence. 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. Among those with higher risk are:
- Workers who exchange money with the public,
- Delivery drivers,
- Healthcare professionals,
- Public service workers,
- Customer service agents,
- Law enforcement personnel, and
- Those who work alone or in small groups.
What Are My Responsibilities as an Employer?
An employer has a legal duty to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to eliminate or reduce the hazard.
OSHA notes that an employer that 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, would be on notice of the risk of workplace violence and should implement a workplace violence prevention program, combined with administrative controls and training, to reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring.
Workplace Violence Prevention
In most workplaces where risk factors can be identified, the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. One of the best protections employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by their employees.
The employer should establish a workplace violence prevention program or incorporate the information into an existing accident prevention program, employee handbook, or manual of standard operating procedures. It is critical to ensure that all employees know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.
In addition, OSHA recommends employers offer additional protections such as the following:
- Provide safety education for employees so they know what conduct is not acceptable, what to do if they witness or are subjected to workplace violence, and how to protect themselves.
- Secure the workplace. Where appropriate to the business, install video surveillance, extra lighting, and alarm systems and minimize access by outsiders through identification badges, electronic keys, and guards.
- Provide drop safes to limit the amount of cash on hand. Keep a minimal amount of cash in registers during evenings and late night hours.
- Equip field staff with cellular phones and hand-held alarms or noise devices, and require them to prepare a daily work plan and keep a contact person informed of their location throughout the day. Keep employer provided vehicles properly maintained.
- Instruct employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Introduce a "buddy system" or provide an escort service or police assistance in potentially dangerous situations or at night.
Note: The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or by a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. For state plan standards and resources relating to workplace violence, please click here.
To learn more about workplace violence prevention, including risk factors, prevention programs, and training resources, please review OSHA's Workplace Violence materials. For general information on office safety and preparedness, you can visit our section on Planning for Workplace Emergencies.
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