Emerging Issues in Security

The Challenge of New Federal OSHA Guidelines for Workplace Violence Prevention

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has created new guidelines for workplace violence prevention, measurement, and response. Its purpose is to help organizations address when a workplace violence perpetrator violates OSHA’s well-known General Duty Clause (GDC), which says employees must protect their employees from all types of physical harm.

This new directive, titled “Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Workplace Violence,” took affect January 10, 2017. It gives the enforcement guidelines as to when OSHA can cite an employer for a complaint, injury, or death, caused by a criminal, stranger, current or former co-worker, customer, patient, passenger, student, or the domestic partner of an employee. The guideline focuses on various healthcare settings where violence is possible; recognizes retail stores, jails and prisons, and driving taxi cabs as jobs with a high risk for violence; gives more resources for OSHA inspectors; explains the review process for settlement agreements; and provides updated guidance on hazard alert letters.

OSHA is most likely to inspect businesses where the employee: has contact with the public; works alone or small groups; works night shift hours; works in high-crime areas; exchanges money; delivers passengers or goods; works in a mobile workplace, like a taxi (or Uber or Lyft, as other examples); works in healthcare, social services, or criminal justice (including police, armored car guards, or guards who protect valuable property); or works in community-based settings like drug rehab centers or halfway houses.

The directive discusses that employers might violate the GDC when they fail to keep the workplace free from a foreseeable workplace violence hazard; fail to recognize that hazard as explicit or in a recognized high-risk industry; the hazard is likely to cause death or serious injury; and there exists a feasible means of correcting those hazards.

In the early 1990s, driving a taxicab was one of the most dangerous jobs with a high likelihood to be killed by someone—it was mostly an all-cash business, at night, in high-crime neighborhoods, few witnesses to a robbery or murder, and no physical security barriers between the driver and the attacker. That ranking has since been surpassed by healthcare workers, who face some of the same hazards in their work, along with a reluctance—part of the nurturing healthcare culture—not to report or to underreport assaults by patients or their families. The healthcare environment has seen significant security hazards in the emergency department, pharmacy, pediatrics, and in the perimeter parking garages.

The directive advises employers to assess their facilities, worksites, and employees’ job duties for ways to reduce the potential for workplace violence with security improvements, engineering and administrative controls, policies against threats and weapons in the workplace, reporting procedures, and training classes.