Workplace violence is a serious safety and health issue. While no federal law specifically addresses violence in the workplace, several laws impose a duty on employers to maintain a safe workplace.
For example, the federal civil rights laws require employers to keep the workplace free from threats of violence. In addition, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) imposes a general duty on all employers to provide employees with a workplace that is free from hazards.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as “violent acts (including physical assaults and threats of assaults) directed towards persons at work or on duty.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes four different types of workplace violence:
Workplace violence is a particularly prevalent issue in healthcare and social service settings, as well as in late-night retail establishments.
Regulators are cracking down on failures to protect workers from violence. OSHA is considering proposing a new standard to deal just with workplace violence, which currently is cited under the General Duty clause requiring employers to protect workers from hazards "that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm."
OSHA states that a written program for workplace violence prevention, incorporated into an organization's overall safety and health program, offers an effective approach to reduce to eliminate the risk of violence in the workplace. The plan will be most effective if it is tailored to the individual needs and circumstances of the employer, and should take into account the resources available for the employer to enact an maintain the program.
The building blocks for developing an effective workplace violence prevention program include:
As with any occupational safety and health program, it should be evaluated and reassessed on a regular basis. It's also important to check for applicable state requirements. Several states have passed legislation and developed requirements that address workplace violence.
OSHA's Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence
Zywave, Workplace Violence Prevention