OSHA Provides Enforcement Guidance on Workplace Violence Response

by Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP
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When does an incidence of workplace violence rise to the level of a federal case? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has updated its guidance on just that issue. The OSH Act’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. The succinctly titled Directive Number CPL 02-01-058, “Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Workplace Violence” —which became effective on January 10, 2017 — addresses when hazards created by people (i.e., violent coworker, customer, etc.) violate the General Duty Clause.

The Directive provides general enforcement guidance as to when OSHA officials should make a response to, and/or cite an employer for, a complaint or fatality arising out of an incident of workplace violence. It defines “workplace violence” broadly as “violent acts (including physical assaults and threats of assaults) directed towards persons at work or on duty.” The stated purpose of the new Directive is to (1) clarify the different healthcare settings in which workplace violence incidents are reasonably foreseeable; (2) recognize corrections and taxi driving as high-risk industries; (3) identify more resources for inspectors; (4) explain the review process for settlement agreements; and (5) update guidance on hazard alert letters.

Why the Update?

The updated Directive appears to be based, in part, on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) about the 15,000 to 25,000 incidents of workplace violence reported each year. First, BLS says that two- thirds of the reported incidents resulting in missed work occurred in healthcare settings.  Also, BLS reported that late-night retail workers, taxi drivers, and correctional officers have reported high numbers of incidents of workplace violence.

What Does the Directive Say?

The Directive generally sets forth the steps OSHA is to follow to determine whether to initiate an inspection of a complaint or incident related to workplace violence. It also provides the basis for a citation under the General Duty Clause, the resources available to OSHA in conducting inspections and developing citations, and how Area Offices may assist employers in addressing workplace violence.

In determining whether to initiate an inspection, the Directive sets forth a list of known risk factors, none of which would individually trigger an inspection. OSHA is to consider whether the employer’s work entails:

  • contact with the public;
  • the exchange of money;
  • the delivery of passengers, goods, or services;
  • a mobile workplace, such as a taxicab;
  • employment in healthcare, social service, or criminal justice;
  • working alone or in small numbers;
  • working late at night or during early morning hours;
  • working in high-crime areas;
  • guarding valuable property or possessions; or
  • working in community-based settings, such as drug rehabilitation centers and group homes.

Assuming your workplace involves some of those factors, when does a workplace violence incident constitute a violation of the General Duty Clause?  The Directive provides the following elements of a violation: (1) the employer’s failure to keep its workplace free of a foreseeable workplace violence hazard; (2) the hazard was recognized explicitly or because it occurred in a recognized high-risk industry; (3) the hazard was causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and (4) there was a feasible, useful means of correcting the hazard.

Guidance on Assessing Your Risk

The updated Directive advises employers to assess their worksites to identify methods for reducing incidences of workplace violence, and counsels employers to develop and implement a well-written workplace violence prevention program. It goes on to suggest that employers implement engineering and administrative controls, and train employees regarding reducing incidences of workplace violence.

Appendix A to the Directive provides a list of potential methods for reducing workplace violence that employers should consider. Among other methods, the appendix suggests provisions that a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program should include, like a policy statement, a hazard assessment and a security analysis. The appendix also provides examples of engineering controls, including assessing plans for new construction to eliminate or reduce security risks; installing and maintaining alarm systems and other security devices, including metal detectors and 24-hour close-circuit recording equipment; limiting access to the worksite; and installing bright, effective lighting. Examples of administrative controls include conducting a workplace hazard analysis; training employees as to workplace violence; establishing liaisons with local police and state prosecutors; and requiring employees to report all assaults or threats to a supervisor or manager.

You should consider OSHA’s guidance in developing and implementing a workplace violence prevention program. Make sure your employees know that they do not have to tolerate potentially violent behavior, and they need to report any such behavior. However, when you get to the suggested engineering and administrative controls, be sure to balance them against other laws governing your workplace, including state, local, and federal privacy laws and safety and building codes and standards.

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Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP
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