Did you know that nearly two million Americans are victims of workplace violence each year? Did you know that homicide is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States, and the leading cause of death for women in the workplace? The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) certainly does. The agency has issued a directive advising its enforcement officers to be on the lookout for employers who do not have adequate measures in place to stem workplace violence.
Health care providers and social service organizations are at the top of OSHA’s watch list are. According to the agency, 48 percent of all non-fatal injuries from occupational assaults and violent acts occurred in health care and social service settings. OSHA has issued guidelines for preventing workplace violence aimed directly at health care and social service employers. It has also issued citations to numerous heath care providers who have failed to safeguard employees against workplace violence hazards. For example, a mental health services provider in the Boston area was cited after one of its employees was murdered by a resident in a group home. In another case involving a workplace fatality, an OSHA official commented: “This incident could have been prevented if the employer had a comprehensive, written, workplace violence prevention program to address hazards and assist employees when they raise concerns about their safety.”
Employers outside the health care and social service settings are also subject to OSHA scrutiny. They too can be cited for failing to protect employees against violent acts in the workplace, including threats that do not involve physical contact. According to OSHA, the best way to protect employees against violence is to establish an effective policy prohibiting physical assaults and threats of assaults in the workplace. This policy should be incorporated into existing handbooks and/or manuals governing standard operating procedures. OSHA also suggests that employers provide safety education for employees so that they know what conduct is unacceptable and how best to protect themselves. Finally, employees should be encouraged to report incidents of workplace violence without fear of retaliation.
Now is the time to implement a workplace violence policy into your handbook or operating procedures. Contact labor and employment counsel if you need assistance implementing a comprehensive workplace violence policy.