As acts of workplace violence unfold across our country, there are times when we are faced with events that many previously would have believed to be unthinkable. When these incidents take place, as they occurred not too long ago at an elementary school in Connecticut where teachers and young children were gunned down, Americans are touched by a harsh reality. We are reminded that this violence can occur anytime and anywhere and has the potential to impact not only the victims, but also employers, families, communities and an entire nation. Although most acts of workplace violence are less horrific, they still can have a damaging effect on those involved and overall organizations. Workplace violence is a concern that each employer should address.
While acts of violence cannot be eradicated totally and no one is immune, proactive measures can be taken by every employer. With the support of senior management, organizations can make and communicate plans for preventing and responding to workplace violence.
The following are questions and answers to assist employers in making preparations for their workplaces:
Which federal agency establishes workplace safety and health standards?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets and enforces workplace safety and health standards for most private workplaces. Public sector employees in a number of states, including Tennessee, also are covered by similar standards.
How does OSHA define workplace violence?
According to the agency, 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 homicide and can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.
What types of information on workplace violence does OSHA provide for employers?
The agency’s website on workplace violence has tabs that enable viewers to access information on risk factors, prevention programs, training and other resources, and enforcement.
What standards has OSHA established for workplace violence?
Currently, there are no specific standards. However, under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), employers are required to provide a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”
What legal obligations does the General Duty Clause establish for employers?
The courts have interpreted the clause to mean that an employer has an 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. Additionally, an employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators showing that the potential for this violence exists, would be on notice of the risk and should implement a workplace violence prevention program combined with specific controls and training.
Which workers are at higher risk of workplace violence?
Workers identified by OSHA include those who exchange money with the public, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel, and those who work alone or in small groups. The agency has issued a number of recommendations to prevent workplace violence for workers who are exposed to higher risks, such those working in late-night retail establishments, taxi and for-hire drivers, and health care and social service workers.
Has the organization developed a workplace violence policy and communicated it to all employees?
The policy that is adopted should provide examples of conduct that will not be tolerated, forewarn employees that policy violations may result in discipline up to and including termination, and outline procedures for supervisors and employees to follow in the event of occurrences. It also should explain that it is the responsibility of all employees to report situations involving potential workplace violence and that no retaliation will result.
Has supervision received training or information to assist them in understanding their responsibilities?
For example, supervisors and other managers should receive guidance in identifying early warning signs associated with workplace violence. Assistance also should be given regarding persons or departments to contact to determine whether any actions should be taken.
Has the organization identified and publicized resources that are available to employees who are dealing with stress and other issues?
Employee assistance programs are an example of services that employers can provide to assist employees in areas such as substance and alcohol abuse, anger management and financial matters.
Have steps been taken to maximize the physical security of the workplace?
Employers should assess facilities and work sites to determine the level of protection necessary for employees and other individuals at these locations. Any bans or restrictions on firearms or weapons should comply with state and local laws.
Does the workplace reflect a respectful environment?
There should be an expectation for all employees to act in a manner that demonstrates respect for others. Those in leadership positions should serve as role models in their day-to-day interactions, including times when terminations or other disciplinary actions are required.
*Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Memphis Business Journal