OSHA Inspectors Get First Directive Focused on Preventing On-the-Job Violence

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By Bruce Rolfsen

A directive on conducting inspections and investigations involving on-the-job violence was made available Sept. 8 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and covers issues such as the types of businesses that should have their policies reviewed and how to respond to allegations of violence toward a worker.

The 50-page directive, CPL 02-01-052 Enforcement Procedures of Investigating or Inspecting Workplace Violence Incidents, is the first of its kind and 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 said. 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.

Workplace Violence Third Leading Cause of Fatalities.

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.

Homicides led to 506 on-the-job deaths in 2010, 11 percent of the of the 4,547 workplace fatalities. However for women, violence was the greatest workplace threat, responsible for 26 percent of the 355 deaths. For men, it was 10 percent.

OSHA officials announced in September 2010 that the agency was preparing a workplace violence directive (40 OSHR 762, 9/16/10).

In a Sept. 8 statement, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels noted that a recent inspection of a psychiatric hospital uncovered more than 90 incidents in which employees were assaulted by patients from 2008 through 2010 and that this year OSHA cited medical facilities Massachusetts and New York for the deaths or workers.

“These incidents and others like them can be avoided or decreased if employers take appropriate precautions to protect their workers,” Michaels said.

High-Risk Employers.

Several types of businesses and work environments are labeled by the directive as “high risk.” They include:

  • Psychiatric facilities.
  • Convenience stores open late at night.
  • Hospital emergency departments.
  • Liquor stores open in the late night.
  • Community mental health facilities.
  • Drug abuse treatment clinics.
  • Pharmacies.
  • Residential and long-term health care facilities.
  • Any store opened in the late night with a single worker.
Inspections of Industries With Known Risks.

The directive also encouraged 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. Inspectors should also 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 or 29 C.F.R. 1960.8(a)1960.8(a) Executive Order 12196, Section 1-201(a) for federal facilities (the general duty clause for federal agencies); 29 C.F.R. 19041904 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 1926.35 Employee Emergency Action Plans.

The general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide workplaces “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 (39 OSHR 361, 5/7/09).

If potential on-the-job violence hazards are not covered by a standard or do not rise to the level of a general duty clause violation, inspectors should consider issuing an “alert letter” recommending protective actions to the employer.

By Bruce Rolfsen


The workplace violence directive is available at http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-01-052.pdf.