In September 2011, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued an enforcement directive to its field offices, advising them to cite employers in appropriate circumstances for failure to prevent or deter workplace violence. The directive was based on recommendations made by OSHA in 2010 for late-night retail employers. These recommendations included steps such as providing clear views of employees from outside the store, lighting, limiting access to cash, physical barriers and avoiding employees working alone late at night.
Last month, OSHA announced issuance of its first citation under the 2011 enforcement directive. The agency cited a Texas convenience store after it was robbed, resulting in the death of the store's clerk. OSHA cited the employer under the General Duty Clause, and proposed fines of $19,600. The citation contends that the employee worked alone behind an open counter, and that the employer had not conducted an analysis of the risks posed to employees from workplace violence.
General Duty Clause citations are not based on any specific OSHA safety standard. The Clause requires employers to observe industry standards for avoiding risk of death or serious injury to employees. By issuing this citation, OSHA is placing the convenience store and other industries on notice of its conclusion that risk analysis and crime prevention steps are a standard and expected practice.
General Duty Clause citations are more difficult for OSHA to legally support. The employer may challenge the citations on the basis that there is no industry consensus as to workplace violence preventative steps. The employer could also contend that some of the recommended measures result in additional employees or customers being exposed to greater dangers from violent crime.