OSHA Launches Workplace Violence Website
Written by: Christina Harris Schwinn
The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) [the agency charged with enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (“OSH Act”)] recently launched a new website targeted towards providing information to employers about preventing workplace violence. In addition to launching its new website, OSHA issued Directive No. CPL 02-01-052, Enforcement Procedures for Investigating or Inspecting Workplace Violence Incidents, effective September 8, 2011 (“Directive”).
Other than the Directive, OSHA has not promulgated a specific regulation relating to workplace violence. Even though OSHA has not promulgated any specific regulations regarding workplace violence, OSHA has broad powers under the OSH Act. Additionally, the General Duty Clause provides the legal basis upon which OSHA relied for its authority to promulgate the Directive and to cite employers when it determines that an employer’s failure to provide employee’s with a safe workplace results in injury or death of an employee due to an unsafe practice. The General Duty Clause provides as follows:
(a) Each employer –
(1) furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.
While it is not uncommon for OSHA to conduct inspections of employer workplaces in high hazard industries, OSHA generally does not conduct inspections of employer workplaces in non-hazardous industries except when: (1) an employee reports a safety violation to OSHA; or (2) following a serious workplace accident.
Establishing a Workplace Violence Policy
Due to highly reported events of workplace violence in the national media and OSHA’s serious interest in preventing workplace violence, employers are well served to be proactive by assessing their work environments for the purposes of identifying potential exposure risks of violence occurring in the their workplaces.
When conducting a workplace violence assessment, be sure to consider the physical characteristics of the work environment, e.g. where the employer is located or whether employees work alone at night. Additionally, the assessment should consider the potential for violence occurring not only between employees but also by third parties with access to the employer’s premises. Once an assessment has been completed, then the next step is to establish a written policy followed by distribution to employees. Any workplace violence policy adopted by an employer should be a zero-tolerance policy and employees should be required to report to their supervisor any threats against them by another (employer or third party) or if they witness another employee being threatened. Keep in mind that while some employees may make empty threats when they become agitated or angry, in this day and age all threats should be taken seriously and dealt with immediately.
OSHA is taking an aggressive stance on the issue of workplace violence. Issues relating to the potential for workplace violence should be taken seriously even if there has never been an incident of violence in your workplace. In these economic times, tensions run high. Be alert to changes in employee behavior and take immediate action when an employee or third party is exhibiting overly aggressive behavior of a threatening nature.
A note to the reader: This article is intended to provide general information and is not intended to be a substitute for competent legal advice. Competent legal counsel should be consulted if you have questions regarding compliance with the law.
Questions regarding the content of this article may be e-mailed to Christina Harris Schwinn at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view past articles written by Ms. Schwinn please visit the firm’s website at www.paveselaw.com. Ms. Schwinn is a partner and an experienced employment and real estate attorney with the Pavese Law Firm, 1833 Hendry Street, Fort Myers, FL 33901; Telephone: (239) 336-6228; Telecopier: (239) 332-2243.
 Most private sector employees are covered under the OSH Act.
 Section 5(a)(1) OSH Act.