Workplace Violence

Posted by Melissa Hall in #YHSafetyTips, Jun 26, 2019

Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers either inside or outside the workplace. Incidents can occur in the form of threats, verbal abuse, physical assaults, or homicide.

Approximately 2 million Americans are victims of workplace violence each year. It can strike anywhere, but some workers are at increased risk including: workers who exchange money with the public; workers that deliver passengers, goods, or services; those that work alone during light night or early morning hours in high crime areas; or those that work in community settings or homes where they have contact with the public.

Acts of violence and other injuries is currently the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16,890 workers in the private industry experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence in 2016. These incidents required days away from work.

Of those victims who experienced trauma from workplace violence:

  • 70% were female
  • 67% were aged 25 to 54
  • 70% worked in the healthcare and social assistance industry
  • 21% required 31 or more days away from work to recover, and 19% involved 3 to 5 days away from work

Of the 5,147 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2017, 458 were cases of intentional injury by another person.

A zero-tolerance policy towards workplace violence against of by employees should be implemented by employers to protect workers. The information should be included in the employee handbook and all employees should be aware of the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and handled appropriately.

Employers should:

  • Provide safety education for 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.
  • Secure the workplace. Where appropriate to the business, install video surveillance, extra lighting, and alarm systems and minimize access by outsiders through identification badges, electronic keys, and guards.
  • Provide drop safes to limit the amount of cash on hand. Keep a minimal amount of cash in registers during evenings and late-night hours.
  • Equip field staff with cellular phones and hand-held alarms or noise devices, and require them to prepare a daily work plan and keep a contact person informed of their location throughout the day. Keep employer provided vehicles properly maintained.
  • Instruct employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Introduce a “buddy system” or provide an escort service or police assistance in potentially dangerous situations or at night.
  • Develop policies and procedures covering visits by home health-care providers. Address the conduct of home visits, the presence of others in the home during visits, and the worker’s right to refuse to provide services in a clearly hazardous situation.

Employees can protect themselves by:

  • Learn how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs.
  • Alert supervisors to any concerns about safety or security and report all incidents immediately in writing.
  • Avoid traveling alone into unfamiliar locations or situations whenever possible.
  • Carry only minimal money and required identification into community settings.

A lot can happen in the chaotic minutes before police arrive; DHS advises staying calm and exercising one of three options: Run, hide or fight.

  • If there is an accessible escape route, leave your belongings and get out
  • If evacuation is not possible, find a hiding place where you won't be trapped should the shooter find you, lock and blockade the door, and silence your phone
  • As a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to incapacitate the shooter by throwing items, improvising weapons and yelling

Some people commit violence because of revenge, robbery or ideology – with or without a component of mental illness. While there is no way to predict an attack, you can be aware of behaviors in coworkers that might signal future violence:

  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
  • Unexplained absenteeism, change in behavior or decline in job performance
  • Depression, withdrawal or suicidal comments
  • Resistance to changes at work or persistent complaining about unfair treatment
  • Violation of company policies
  • Emotional responses to criticism, mood swings
  • Paranoia

There are currently no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence.

However, under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm." The courts have interpreted OSHA's general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard.

An employee that has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators showing that the potential for violence in the workplace exists, would be on notice of the risk of workplace violence and should implement a workplace violence prevention program combined with engineering controls, administrative controls, and training.

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