OSHA Issues First Directive On Investigation of Incidents

With an emphasis on practical strategies to improve productivity and performance, and limit potential liabilities, Bulletin to Management™ concisely analyzes new developments in employment and human resources management.

Inspectors with the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration Sept. 8 were issued a directive on conducting inspections and investigations involving on-the-job violence, the first directive of its kind for inspectors.

A range of issues are covered in CPL 02-01-052, Enforcement Procedures of Investigating or Inspecting Workplace Violence Incidents, from which types of businesses should have their workplace violence prevention policies reviewed to how OSHA should respond if a worker reports being threatened by a co-worker.

The directive was signed by David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, who heads the agency.

Third Leading Cause of Deaths

Assaults and homicide were the third leading cause of on-the-job fatalities in 2010 and have been among the top four causes since at least 1992, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. In 2010, only traffic accidents and falls resulted in more workplace deaths.

Violent acts led to 506 on-the-job deaths in 2010, 18 percent of the 4,547 workplace fatalities. For women, however, violence was the greatest workplace threat, responsible for 26 percent of the 355 deaths. For men, it was 10 percent.

In a Sept. 8 statement, Michaels noted that a recent inspection of a psychiatric hospital had uncovered more than 90 incidents in which employees had been assaulted by patients from 2008 through 2010 and that this year OSHA cited medical facilities in Massachusetts and New York for the deaths of workers. “These incidents and others like them can be avoided or decreased if employers take appropriate precautions to protect their workers,” Michaels said.

Focus on Risky Jobs

The directive lays out two primary reasons to review an employer's violence prevention efforts. An inspection “shall be considered where there is a complaint, referral, or fatality and/or catastrophic event” involving a violent act at the business, the directive states. Also, a programmed inspection shall be considered when an employer is part of an industry with a recognized potential for workplace violence.

An inspection “generally shall not be considered in response to coworker or personal threats of violence,” the directive advises.

The directive identifies several types of businesses and work environments as “high risk,” among them psychiatric facilities, residential and long-term health care facilities, and convenience stores and liquor stores open late at night.

The directive also encourages inspections of industries and occupations with “known risk factors,” including locations in high-crime areas, jobs guarding valuable property, driving taxi cabs and delivery trucks, handling money in financial institutions, and dealing with volatile people in criminal justice facilities.

Once an inspection starts, the OSHA team should request an employer's hazard assessments and reviews of violent incidents, according to the directive. Inspectors also should determine whether the employer has a workplace violence prevention program in place and has taken other precautions such as engineering controls and personal protective gear.

Inspectors also are encouraged to review the employer's OSHA Form 300 injury and illness records for the past five years as well as workers' compensation and insurance records, police reports, and first-aid records to determine whether the log information is correct.

Several Standards Apply

Because there is no specific workplace violence prevention standard, the directive cites several existing rules as appropriate for inspectors to apply.

The standards are Section 5(a)(1) general duty clause of 29 C.F.R. § 1960.8(a); Executive Order 12196, Section 1-201(a) for federal facilities (the general duty clause for federal agencies); 29 C.F.R. § 1904 Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses; 29 C.F.R. § 1910.151 Medical Services and First Aid; 29 C.F.R. § 1926.23 First Aid and Medical Attention; and 29 C.F.R. § 1926.35 Employee Emergency Action Plans.

The general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide workplaces that are “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” OSHA has been using the general duty clause to cover on-the-job violence issues since at least 2009.

By Bruce Rolfsen

Text of the workplace violence directive can be accessed at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=czon-8lhule .