Workplace violence can happen to any worker in any industry. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) recently reaffirmed that violence in the workplace is a recognizable hazard, and employers are responsible for protecting employees from assaults and homicides.
Violence is the third leading cause of fatal occupational injuries behind transportation incidents and falls, slips, and trips. In 2017, 807 workers died on the job due to violence, according to data compiled by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The figure does include 275 suicides but also includes 351 shootings and 47 stabbings.
The BLS also reports that 39,750 nonfatal occupational injuries in 2017 were due to violence in the workplace. Injuries from violence in the workplace led to a median 4 days away from work. Causes of nonfatal injuries included:
- 16,950 instances of beating, hitting, kicking, or shoving;
- 130 stabbings;
- 70 shootings;
- 40 strangulations; and
- 40 rapes.
Any worker in any industry can experience violence in the workplace; but a BLS analysis found that occupations involving cash transactions are most likely to fall victim to work-related homicides.
Occupational groups experiencing the highest rates of homicide include taxicab drivers and chauffeurs; police officers and detectives; private guards; executives, administrators, and supervisors; and truck drivers.
Specific occupations in the executives, administrators, and supervisors group included chief executives, legislators, postmasters, purchasing managers, and real estate managers. However, managers of food-serving and lodging establishments suffered a disproportionate share of fatalities, usually occurring during armed robberies.
Worker Compensation Costs
Assaults on the job sometimes can leave workers disabled, resulting in workers’ compensation claims. A study of workers’ compensation claims over a 5-year period in Oregon found that assault claims averaged 58 days of time loss and $12,258 in claim costs per claim.
The study released by the state Department of Consumer & Business Services also found that:
- Private sector service industries accounted for 39% of accepted disability claims due to violence, and state and local governments accounted for 41% of claims.
- The assailant in 41% of compensable assault claims was a healthcare or residential care patient.
- Nursing aides had the highest percentage of assault claims (17%), followed by police officers (12%), guards (6%), and teachers (6%).
There is no federal workplace violence prevention standard. However, 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 rationale, recently reaffirmed by the review commission, is that if a hazard is recognizable and can cause serious harm, it falls within the scope of the General Duty Clause.
However, some states have developed standards concerning violence in certain workplaces. California and Oregon both have laws that require workplace violence prevention programs in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and New Mexico has security requirements for convenience stores.
Employers looking for guidance on preventing or handling shooting incidents can look to the efforts of two consensus standard-setting organizations:
- The National Fire Prevention Association’s NFPA 3000 Provisional Standard, “Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program;” and
- The American Society of Safety Professionals’ technical report, “How to Develop and Implement an Active Shooter/Armed Assailant Plan,” (ASSP TR-Z590.5).
The chief of the Orange County, Florida, fire department requested that NFPA develop a standard for preparing for and handling mass shootings, following the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. The main audiences for NFPA provisional standards are communities and first response agencies.
ASSP’s recommendations lay out steps for employers, covering all aspects of active shooter prevention and response.
The five steps in ASSP’s program recommendation are:
- Determine workplace vulnerabilities;
- Harden sites with badge entry systems and security cameras;
- Train staff through tabletop drills, tactical drills, and practice sessions;
- Coordinate with local emergency response agencies, inviting firefighters, police officers, and other first responders to tour the facility to familiarize themselves with the site; and
- Handle postincident issues, for instance, creating a business continuity plan in case the facility must remain closed while law enforcement agencies process the crime scene.
Workplace Violence Prevention Programs
Workplace violence prevention typically begins with a written policy, clearly stating that harassment and violence of any kind is not permitted and will not be tolerated. Elements of a comprehensive prevention program vary by industry and occupation but can include:
- Hazard identification, risk assessment, and site analysis;
- Engineering controls;
- Policies, procedures, and other administrative controls;
- Background checks and screening;
- Education and training;
- Drills; and
- Evaluation and reassessment.
Because of their familiarity with facility operations, processes, and potential threats, employees play a critical role in hazard identification and worksite analysis. Employers should consult employees in employee assistance, human resources, occupational safety and health, operations, and security.
Hazard identification should also involve a review of records, including injury and illness logs, as well as employee surveys and individual job hazard analysis.
A worksite analysis of a retail establishment would also consider whether the business has had to address other crimes like shoplifting. It should consider the types of patrons (for example, alcohol or drug users) and physical security factors like building layout and exterior and interior lighting.
Engineering controls available to employers include:
- Physical barriers (such as enclosures with bulletproof glass);
- Door locks;
- Metal detectors;
- Monitoring systems, including closed-circuit video cameras, curved mirrors, glass panels in doors, and wall panels;
- Panic buttons (at workstations or personal devices worn by employees);
- Better or additional lighting; and
- More accessible exits.
For drivers, barriers such as bullet-resistant glass can be effective engineering controls, as well as in-vehicle security cameras, “silent alarms,” and vehicle tracking devices such as global positioning satellite systems.
In late-night retail stores, engineering controls would include clear views for employees and police by keeping shelving low and signs high or low in windows. Store owners or managers also should ensure cash registers or customer service areas are clearly visible outside the store.
All employers need administrative and security procedures when handling employee terminations, including during layoffs or a reduction in workforce. Job loss and economic insecurity can be stressors that lead to violence in the workplace.
All employers should train their supervisors and employees to recognize warning signs of potential violence. Warning signs include:
- Direct or veiled verbal threats of harm;
- Drug or alcohol use;
- Intimidating, belligerent, harassing, bullying, or other inappropriate and aggressive behavior;
- Repeated conflicts with supervisors or coworkers;
- Bringing a weapon into the workplace, brandishing a weapon in the workplace, making inappropriate references to guns, or exhibiting a fascination with weapons; and
- Statements showing fascination with incidents of workplace violence, statements indicating approval of the use of violence in similar situations or the use of violence to resolve a problem, and statements indicating identification with perpetrators of workplace homicides.
Healthcare facilities are especially prone to violence in the workplace, sometimes perpetrated by patients, sometimes by friends, relatives, or other visitors. Administrative controls in healthcare facilities can include:
- Log-in and log-out procedures;
- Communication strategies to inform others of a threat or incident;
- Sharing travel plans;
- Reports of violent history or incidents in staff updates during shift changes;
- Double-teaming, ensuring workers are not alone;
- Reporting threats or incidents of violence to supervisors;
- Establishing a liaison with law enforcement agencies;
- Creating written security procedures;
- Providing employees with identification badges;
- Discouraging the wearing of necklaces or accessories that could be used for strangulation;
- Encouraging the wearing of caps or netting so hair cannot be grabbed; and
- Using trained security officers, as well as personnel trained in de-escalation.
At late-night retail establishments, work practices should include:
- Checking lighting, locks, and security cameras;
- Using drop safes and keeping minimal amounts of cash in registers, as well as, posting signs that cashiers have limited access to cash;
- Increasing staffing and using a “buddy system,”
- Prohibiting acceptance of large bills (over $20, for instance); and
- Developing and implementing procedures for proper use of enclosures and pass-through windows.
Training should cover the workplace violence prevention policy and related facility policies and procedures. It also should include hands-on sessions in de-escalation and self-defense techniques.
Training topics also can include:
- Risk factors that cause or lead to assaults;
- Policies and procedures for documenting incidents, threats, and behavioral changes;
- Ways to recognize and prevent or diffuse volatile situations or aggressive behavior;
- Early recognition of escalating behavior and recognition of warning signs or situations that may lead to assaults;
- A standard response action plan for violent situations, including the availability of assistance, response to “panic buttons” and other alarm systems, and communication procedures;
- The use of a “buddy system” to protect oneself and coworkers; and
- Policies and procedures for reporting and recordkeeping.
Any workplace violence prevention program must be tailored to an employer’s industry and geographic location and must consider the hazards unique to their business or facility.