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Be prepared for workplace violence

Steps employers can take to evaluate risk and prevent workplace violence.

July 12, 2013
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Each year there are nearly two million nonfatal acts of workplace violence and about 600 employees killed due to workplace violence.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening and disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite.

Although OSHA has no workplace violence prevention standard, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, known as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

OSHA recognizes workplace violence is a known potential risk in the healthcare and social services industry, late-night retail establishments and the taxi industry. Even if an employer is not in one of these identified high-risk industries, employers may be at risk for a workplace violence citation if they have recognized the potential for workplace violence and have not taken feasible abatement steps to prevent such hazard.

An employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence at the worksite or becomes aware of threats, intimidation or other indicators showing the potential for violence in the workplace exists, would be considered to have recognized the risk of workplace violence.

The factors that employers should consider in assessing whether their employees are at risk for workplace violence include whether their employees are:

  • Working with the public or volatile, unstable people;
  • Working alone or in isolated areas;
  • Handling or guarding money and valuables;
  • Working where alcohol is served;
  • Working late at night or early morning hours; and
  • Working in areas with high crime rates.
  • The following abatement methods may be adopted by employers to materially reduce or eliminate workplace violence in their worksites:
  • Develop a workplace violence prevention program;
  • Conduct a workplace violence hazard analysis;
  • Implement appropriate engineering controls;
  • Implement appropriate administrative controls;
  • Provide training to employees on workplace violence; and
  • Promptly respond to all complaints.

Employers should develop a written workplace violence prevention program that includes a policy statement regarding potential violence in the workplace and the assignment of oversight and prevention responsibilities. Employers should develop procedures and responsibilities to be taken in the event of workplace violence and have a recordkeeping system designed to accurately capture any violent incidents.

Employers should conduct a workplace violence hazard assessment that considers the likelihood of workplace violence after assessing any risk factors. This assessment should identify jobs or locations with the greatest risk of violence as well as any processes and procedures that put employees at risk and then consider whether changes can reduce employee vulnerability to violent incidents.

Employers should implement appropriate engineering controls, such as installing and regularly maintaining alarm and recording systems and other security devices, locking all unused doors to limit access, installing bright and effective lighting and installing mirrors.

Employers should implement appropriate administrative controls, such as establishing liaisons with local police, requiring all visitors to sign in and provide identification and requiring employees to report all assaults or threats to a supervisor.

Employers should provide training to employees on how to recognize the potential for workplace violence and the steps they can take to avoid or mitigate potential violent encounters and protect themselves. Employers also should provide training to employees on how to seek assistance if violence appears imminent and how to report and document incidents of violence. 

The dangers associated with workplace violence are real. Employers should evaluate conditions at their worksites and take steps to prevent workplace violence among their workers.


 Michael T. Taylor is a partner and Nickole Winnett an associate with law firm Jackson Lewis LLP. Eye on Safety is produced each month by the American Supply Association Safety Committee. For more information, visit


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