It seems like every week we see another news story about an attack that happened at a workplace. I lived in Royal Oak, Michigan, back in 1991 when a disgruntled former employee started shooting at the post office leaving five people dead and a close-knit town reeling from the tragedy. We all thought at the time, “How could this have happened?” “Why didn’t anyone see this coming?” “How could it have been prevented?” Twenty-five years later, I still think about that day and the employees running into where I worked fleeing the post office to find shelter from the shooter. It was terrifying!
Jump ahead to today and we are still dealing with workplace violence situations all too often. Every year some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence.1 In 2014, almost 16,000 workers experienced physical trauma from nonfatal workplace violence that required days away from work and 409 workers were victims of homicide.2
So how can an employer help protect their employees from this threat? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that employers should establish a Workplace Violence Prevention program. This program should include: (1) A zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence; (2) A process for employees to report incidents and concerns; and (3) Education for all 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. It is important to note that while OSHA does not yet have a specific regulatory requirement on workplace violence, the General Duty Clause allows agencies to cite employers that neglect the issue. In other words, they are looking for employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees through implementation of a Workplace Violence Prevention Program.
The following are four different types of violence that can occur3
1) Violence by strangers – The perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business. They are usually committing a crime including robbery, shoplifting, trespassing and terrorism. (85% of workplace homicides fall into this category).
2) Violence by customers – The perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business.
3) Violence by coworkers – The perpetrator is an employee or past employee of the business who attacks or threatens another employee in the workplace.
4) Violence by personal relations – The perpetrator usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. This category includes victims of domestic violence assaulted or threatened while at work.
Different industries will have different risk levels when it comes to workplace violence. There are different safeguards that should be implemented depending on the specific industry. For example, a company who has home health care workers should implement policies and procedures to address home visits including the presence of others in the home during visits, implementing a “buddy system”, and the worker’s right to refuse to provide services in a clearly hazardous situation. Another industry example is a retail location that should implement policies to keep a minimal amount of cash in registers during evenings and late night hours, having security cameras and an alarm system operational, plus employees should be trained on appropriate robbery response. OSHA has a comprehensive list of on-line resources available for employers looking to implement prevention programs in their workplace at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/evaluation.html. This website includes many industry specific resources. A terrific training video on workplace violence was created by the Department of Homeland Security and Ready Houston, titled “Run, Hide, Fight” and can be viewed for free at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0.
The key to any Workplace Violence Prevention program is education. Employees should know their company policy, be able to recognize warning signs that may point toward an increased risk in worker violence, have a process to follow to report incidents/observations, and how to react in a workplace violence situation.
If you have questions on implementing a Workplace Violence Prevention program at your workplace, LandrumHR’s Risk Management Team is here to help!
1OSHA Fact Sheet – Workplace Violence - https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/factsheet-workplace-violence.pdf
3NIOSH Publication No. 2006-144 “Workplace Violence Strategies and Research Needs” - https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2006-144/pdfs/2006-144.pdf