Importance of Having a Workplace Violence Prevention Program

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace violence is a growing concern for both employers and employees. According to OSHA, there are about 2 million victims of workplace violence each year and workplace violence is the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries behind transportation incidents and slip, trip and falls. These statistics report that there were also 39,750 non-fatal occupational injuries in 2017 due to violence in the workplace which led to a median 4 days away from work. The usual causes of these non-fatal injuries were from assaults, stabbings, shootings, strangulation and rapes.

What is Workplace Violence?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.”

A successful workplace violence prevention program includes physical controls, procedural controls and training—a necessary tool to reducing or eliminating assaults while on the job.

Types of Workplace Violence

Reducing workplace violence starts with understanding the four main types of workplace violence that could compromise employee safety.

  1. Criminal intent – Where the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship with the business.
  2. Customer or client – The perpetrator becomes violent while being served by the business.
  3. Worker on worker – Employee or past employee attacks or threatens another employee.
  4. Personal relationship – The perpetrator does not have a relationship with the business but rather a personal relationship with the intended victim.

Increasingly, employers are being held responsible for protecting employees from assaults and homicides. Therefore, employers should establish a workplace violence prevention program or incorporate this information into an existing accident prevention program or employee handbook. It is important that all employees understand the policy and know that any claims of violence will be investigated promptly.

4 Elements of a Robust Workplace Violence Prevention Program

Elements of a comprehensive prevention program vary by industry and occupation but can include the following:

  1. Start by assessing the risk of violence against employees.
    Hazard identification, risk assessment and site analysis with employee consultation can be a good place to start. Employees are familiar with facility operations, processes and potential threats.
  2. Establish and incorporate physical controls into the program.
    Engineering controls such as physical barriers like bulletproof glass, door locks, panic buttons, metal detectors, monitoring systems and video surveillance can be especially helpful in a variety of workplace settings. 
  3. Employ procedural controls.
    Think about administrative controls with set procedures for employee terminations, layoffs, and other stressors around the workplace. Supervisors and employees should be trained to recognize warning signs of potential violence:
    Drug and alcohol use    
    Aggressive behavior
    Repeated conflicts with supervisors and coworkers
    Bringing any kind of a weapon into the workplace    
  4. Provide continuous training.
    Maintain a consistent training schedule on workplace violence prevention policies and procedures. Hands-on sessions in de-escalation and self-defense techniques is crucial. Other training topics may include risk factors that lead to assaults, documenting incidents and threats, how to defuse volatile situations and aggressive behavior. It is important that all employees thoroughly understand the policy and are encouraged to promptly report incidents and suggest ways to reduce or eliminate risks without fear of reprisal.

Assaults on the job sometimes can leave workers disabled, resulting in costly workers compensation claims and substantial lost time. This is not only bad for your bottom line, but can affect employee morale.      

OSHA and Workplace Violence Prevention

OSHA has not issued any formal standards on workplace violence at this time, but they have issued general guidelines and recommendations to employers on workplace violence prevention. Keep in mind that OSHA can issue citations to employers for violations of the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1). OSHA can and does cite employers under the General Duty Clause for failing to protect employees from incidents of violence while on the job. The agency’s rational is that if a hazard is recognizable and can cause serious harm, it falls within the scope of the General Duty Clause.      

Workplace Prevention Program Requirements in Different States

A few states such as California, Oregon and New Mexico require workplace violence prevention programs in certain occupancies such as healthcare facilities and convenience stores. However, since most states do not fall into this category, workplace violence prevention programs must be tailored to an employer’s industry and geographic location and must consider the hazards unique to their business or facility.

Violent Acts Insurance Coverage

Unpredictable violent acts are one of the most frightening exposures facing businesses today. While it’s important to have a workplace violence prevention program, it’s just as important to have the necessary coverage should a violent act occur.

For more information on how you can protect your business, download our Crime Prevention Checklist or contact a local Society agent.

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