Over the past several years, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has shown increasing interest in preventing workplace violence. This interest has been prompted by studies indicating that homicide continues to be among the leading cause of workplace death in the U.S. OSHA has held hearings on this subject, but has not issued regulations that specifically address prevention of workplace violence.
Earlier this month, OSHA issued an enforcement directive to its field inspectors, setting forth for the first time criteria for inspecting and citing employers for failure to take reasonable steps to avoid incidents of workplace violence. The directive does not focus on assaults by co-workers, but instead concentrates on particular industries viewed as likely to suffer from external criminal activity.
These targeted industries include medical care facilities that treat mental conditions, hospital emergency room facilities, convenience stores, pharmacies, taxi companies, financial institutions where money is handled, criminal justice facilities and security companies. While no OSHA regulations govern workplace violence prevention practices by these businesses, the directive instructs inspections to cite employers under the General Duty Clause in situations where the employer is deemed not to have acted reasonably to prevent and to deter violence.
These measures can include adoption of a violence prevention and response plan, issuance of personal protective equipment, basic facility security, and other steps deemed to be consistent with industry standards and practices. Inspections can result from employee complaints, reports of fatalities tied to workplace violence, or programmed inspections of targeted industries.
Employers in these noted industries should consider adoption of a workplace violence prevention plan, including a thorough review of current security measures, and employee training to respond to potential or actual violent episodes.