In March 2022, Fed-OSHA announced plans to focus on workplace violence (WPV) prevention as a major initiative. Consistent with this initiative, recently, there have been multiple OSHA investigations into workplace incidents. These investigations are instructive and provide insight into best practices with respect to an employer’s obligation to take measures to prevent workplace violence and provide a safe workplace.
Employers should establish a comprehensive WPV prevention program
Fed-OSHA has consistently indicated the importance of an employer’s own internal policies and practices to equip employees with the knowledge and tools to recognize and avoid risks on the job and cited employers for failing to have proper policies. Employers should have a comprehensive WPV prevention program and related training that takes into account key hazards faced by their employees. To develop a WPV prevention program, employers need to assemble a team consisting of management representatives from Human Resources, Safety and Health, Security, Investigations, Legal, and Risk Management (or from similar roles in your organization). The team should review and identify risks in the workplace, industry, and community and explore best practices for addressing those risks.
In addition to complying with federal and state requirements, a prevention program should:
- Identify and track trends that may expose issues relating to WPV
- Provide for prompt reporting and investigation of potential issues
- Develop and implement a system to track, identify, and communicate issues relating to risk
- Require signs and notices to inform employees and clients of safety policies
- Involve training on issues involving WPV, including internal and external risk factors
Once the prevention program is in place, employers must train employees and management on the program and how to implement it in case of a WPV incident and conduct safety drills. A prevention program without training and practice will not be effective.
Employers should recognize key hazards in their industries
Employers need to identify and analyze key hazards in their workplace as well as their industries and communities. In recent cases, Fed-OSHA has cited the employer’s failure to adequately train employees to deal with common workplace hazards and failure to have adequate internal policies and procedures to address workplace violence. What works in an office building may not apply in a store or restaurant. Accordingly, employers should identify common hazards, assessing the different risks of violence posed by the environment in which employees work or provide a service, and develop targeted plans to minimize the risk of such hazards.
For instance, in a Louisville, Colorado, investigation involving an acute inpatient psychiatric treatment facility, Fed-OSHA noted a pattern and history of regular assault and serious injury to employees. In that case, Fed-OSHA required the employer to reflect on incidents involving violence by patients against staff and take affirmative steps toward reducing these risks. Corrective actions involved reconfiguring nurses’ stations to prevent patients from easily accessing staff and providing staff with reliable communication devices, such as radios and/or personal panic alarms. Other corrective action may include increased communication with law enforcement to ensure prompt response during a WPV incident, which was noted as an important part of WPV prevention in a Boise, Idaho, incident in which an assailant shot and killed a mall security employee.
Employers should conduct post-incident debriefing and implement corrective measures to minimize the risk of future workplace violence
If an incident of workplace violence occurs, employers should debrief, investigate, and develop a plan involving corrective actions to prevent a reoccurrence. As part of this process, employers should give specific feedback to involved employees. Moreover, employers should monitor trends of high rates of WPV incidents, including taking note of the type of incident and where the incident takes place. An example of an emerging trend involves emergency exits. In many work locations, emergency exits are rarely used (or perhaps are often misused), so employers may be tempted to block them or use the space for storage. However, recent citations stemming from WPV investigations in which OSHA discovered that the emergency exits were blocked, inaccessible, and/or poorly or improperly marked, even where those issues did not cause or increase the workplace safety risk in the WPV incident, demonstrate that OSHA is cracking down on these violations as part of the campaign to ensure employee safety.
To learn more about workplace violence prevention and enforcement and other OSHA issues, register for our upcoming presentation, OSHA Update: What to expect in 2023 (this course is eligible for 1.0 CLE & HRCI credit). Additionally, you can view our June 2, 2022, discussion, Implementing Strategies for Workplace Violence Prevention & Response.