April is National Workplace Violence Prevention Month. OSHA hopes to raise awareness by releasing updated guidance for healthcare and social service workers. In 2013, workers suffered more than 25,000 occupational assault injuries, most of which occurred in the healthcare and social services industries, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Also in 2013, 397 fatal workplace injuries in the United States were classified as homicides, which works out to 9% of all workplace deaths. (To put this in a little perspective, the U.S. population is nearly 320 million.) People are more likely to die in transportation accidents (which accounts for about 40% of all workplace deaths), falls or trips, or after getting hit by an object or equipment than by homicide.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates the economic cost of workplace violence nationwide at around $121 billion a year. Nonfatal workplace assaults alone result in more than 876,000 lost workdays and $16 million in lost wages and occur to men and women in almost equal rates.

Just in the past year, we have seen tragic occurrences of workplace violence resulting in fatalities.

In Alabama, a fired man walks into a UPS facility he’d worked at, shoots dead two people, then takes his own life.

In Oklahoma, another man — also just after being laid off — allegedly heads to his former food processing plant, beheads the first person he sees, then attacks another.

In Illinois, police say, a man walks into his air traffic control center one morning, starts a destructive fire, then slices his own throat.

The updated guidance includes best practices on reducing the risk of violence. The guidelines are advisory in nature, informational in content and intended to help employers establish effective workplace violence prevention programs adapted to their specific worksites. They do not address issues related to patient care. According to OSHA, the guidelines are performance-oriented, and how employers implement them will vary based on the site’s hazard analysis.

OSHA recommends creating a written violence prevention program that includes:

  • management commitment and worker participation, perhaps as part of a safety committee that hosts regular meetings
  • work site analysis and hazard identification, which may include employee surveys
  • hazard prevention and control, such as transferring patients with a history of violent behavior to a more secure facility
  • training on topics such as managing assaultive behavior

Employers can use the following strategies to improve awareness and prevention of violence in the workplace:

  • A policy statement
  • Threat assessment
  • Hazard assessment
  • Workplace security analysis
  • Workplace survey
  • Control and prevention
  • Training and education
  • Incident prevention and investigation
  • Recordkeeping

Not every strategy is appropriate for every workplace, so employers and employees should use the strategies appropriate to their workplace.

Policy Statement:   this may address purpose and scope of the policy, definitions of workplace threats and violence, and consequences for violations.

Threat Assessment Team:  this team may represent all areas and levels of the company, and will assess the vulnerability of the workplace and reach agreement on preventive actions to be taken.

Hazard assessment:  The Threat Assessment Team will take into consideration the following areas in assessing hazards:

  • OSHA logs
  • Incident reports
  • Assaults or near-assaults
  • Insurance records
  • Police records
  • Accident investigations
  • Training records
  • Grievances
  • Other

Workplace security analysis:  The Threat Assessment Team will analyze the potential hazards, inspect the workplace, and review at-risk work tasks to include:

  • Exchange of money with public
  • Working alone or in small numbers
  • Working late night or early morning
  • Guarding valuable property or possessions
  • Working in community settings
  • Staffing levels

Workplace survey:  The Threat Assessment Team will conduct surveys and analyze:

  • Employee survey results
  • Inspection survey results

Control and prevention: The Threat Assessment Team will make recommendations for:

  • Engineering controls
  • Building vulnerabilities
  • Work area design
  • Procedures and policies

Training and education: training will be conducted for employees, supervisors and managers every two years on the following topics:

  • Review and definition of workplace violence
  • Program description
  • Reporting instructions
  • Recognition and response
  • Security hazard identification

Beyond injury and even death, the costs to a business resulting from workplace violence can include losing good employees, psychological damage to those involved, physical property being damaged, stolen or sabotaged (and the cost of fixing or replacing it), paying more for workers compensation, and paying more for security.

At NARFA, our members’ safety is of the utmost importance to us, and we strive to provide you with the most up to date information to protect your employees and your business. Please continue to check our blog for safety and wellness tips and contact us to learn more about our nationally recognized workers compensation program in Massachusetts, the AICC  and our other employee benefits programs.

For more information: here are the guidelines from the OSHA website.



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