Workplace violence: Now OSHA is getting involved

Joan Fletcher Iowa Employment & Labor Law Dickinson Law Firm Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 10/03/2011 at 10:09 AM by Joan Fletcher

Workplace violence has remained among the top four causes of death in the workplace for over fifteen years, and the problem is now officially on OSHA's radar.  In September, OSHA issued its first instruction (Directive No. CPL 02-01-052) for procedures to apply in workplace violence investigations and inspections.  Such investigations and inspections will be considered where there is a complaint, referral, fatality or catastrophic event involving an incident of workplace violence, and during programmed inspections where there is recognition of the potential for workplace violence in that industry. Factors OSHA cites as those which may increase the risk of violence at worksites include: working with the public or volatile, unstable people; working alone or in isolated areas; handling money and valuables; working where alcohol is served; and working late at night or in high crime areas.   However, even if your business does not fall within the scope of these high risk categories, the new procedures apply to any programmed inspection where workplace violence is identified by the inspector as a hazard.  Employers may be found in violation of the “general duty” clause if they fail to reduce or eliminate serious recognized hazards.  Under the new directive, inspectors are to gather evidence to demonstrate whether an employer recognized, either individually or through industry knowledge, the existence of a potential workplace violence hazard affecting its employees.  Industry knowledge may be attributed through a wide variety of sources, including journal articles and research showing the existence of workplace violence in a given industry. The scope of this type of OSHA inspection is potentially very broad, since the officer will be allowed to use his or her professional judgment to determine which areas of the facility to inspect. During the inspection the officer may request information on any hazard assessments performed and incident reviews at the facility concerning issues of workplace violence, and will determine whether the employer has a workplace violence prevention program.  The officer will request all information regarding worker training programs and other methods used to inform workers of the potential for, and prevention of, workplace violence.  Examples of documentation that will establish the elements of a general duty clause violation include: OSHA 300 or 301 Forms or workers’ compensation records documenting injuries from workplace violence; past complaints noting the hazard; meeting minutes where workplace violence issues were discussed; employee interviews disclosing information on previous incidents of violence in the workplace, or other documentation supporting that the hazard was reasonably foreseeable to the employer. In workplaces where a potential for violence has been identified, the employer will be “encouraged” to develop and implement a workplace violence prevention program, and it will be the employer’s responsibility to use the most effective, feasible controls available to protect its employees from workplace violence.

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