Experts Offer Strategies to Curb Incidents of Workplace Violence
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace suicides were up 28 percent in 2008 over the previous year while workplace homicides continued to be one of the top three causes of on-the-job fatalities. In addition, a recent report in Washington state found that employers recorded the highest number of workplace violence-related deaths in more than a decade.
According to a report issued by the American Society of Safety Engineers, these incidents serve as reminders to employers about their duty to provide a safe work environment. JoAnn M. Sullivan, coauthor of the Workplace Violence Survey & White Paper, said employers must realize that under federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, they have a general duty to furnish to each employee a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing, or likely to cause, death or serious harm. She also noted that employers, under the theory of respondent superior, are vicariously liable for any actions committed by their employees within the scope of their employment. The employer is liable for the actions of the employee when the employee is working even if the employee is not acting within company policy.
Incidents of workplace violence include homicides, physical attacks, rapes, assaults, and all other forms of harassment that create a hostile work environment. Studies have shown that most injuries due to workplace violence occur in jobs known to be of high risk, such as those involving contact with the public, the exchange of money, and working alone.
OSHA officials said late-night retail employees are at a significant risk of experiencing violence in the workplace. According to the BLS, more than 160 retail trade workers are killed on the job annually. Nearly half of these individuals are employed in late-night establishments such as gasoline stations, and liquor and convenience stores.
"The number of retail workers who died as a result of workplace violence has declined over the past 10 years -- from 286 in 1998 to 167 in 2007," said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. "This decline is encouraging but not good enough. Workers should not go to work fearing they won't live through the day."
To address this issue, the agency recently updated its Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments guidance, which was originally published in 1998.
Workplace-violence prevention measures can include everything from environmental changes such as improved lighting to employee training, such as de-escalation techniques. State laws on workplace safety recognize that certain industries carry the potential for violence, with some requiring that late-night retail businesses, for example, provide lighted parking lots, safes without employee access, and special training for workers. Violence prevention plans and special training are also required for health care employees.
In her report, Sullivan said that although no prevention plan is one-size-fits-all, different departments and employees can play specific roles in reducing workplace violence risks. She identified the following groups:
- Officers and directors. Management, Sullivan said, should establish a workplace violence prevention plan. Upper management, specifically, must promote an anti-violence corporate policy, as well as establish and maintain security policies.
- Human resource managers. Sullivan said HR managers must examine and improve hiring practices by implementing prescreening techniques, utilizing background checks, encouraging employees to report threats or violent behavior, establishing termination policies, and providing post-termination counseling.
- Safety, health and environmental departments. Health and safety professions should train all employees in the warning signs of aggressive or violent behavior, as well as provide guidance to management in threat assessment and de-escalation techniques. In addition, Sullivan said health and safety professionals should conduct a formal workplace violence risk assessment; increase security as needed; develop and communicate a contingency plan to all employees which includes crisis management and media relations; review insurance coverage and verify coverage and exclusions; and identify a defensive strategy.
Read more at the WORKERSCOMP ForumTM homepage.
March 15, 2010
Copyright 2010© LRP Publications