Enforcement Trends

OSHA Turns Up the Heat on Workplace Violence

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: February 15th, 2012
Topics: Workplace Violence |

Workplace Violence

OSHA citations for workplace violence are relatively rare—but less rare than they used to be. In the past 2 years, OSHA has been much more aggressive with workplace violence enforcement.

Why OSHA Can Cite You for Workplace Violence Violations

You can be cited for workplace violence violations even though OSHA doesn’t have a specific workplace violence standard. What OSHA does have is the so called “general duty clause,” Sec. 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers to keep the workplace safe from “known hazards”  likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

As far back as 1992, OSHA issued an Interpretation Letter stating that, in some circumstances, the risk of violence can be one of the “recognized hazards.” Over the years, OSHA has also issued guidelines for high hazard industries and operations like:

OSHA Ramps up Workplace Violence Enforcement

All of this is old news. What’s new is how aggressively OSHA has become about using its GDC authority to issue citations for violence. On Sept. 8, 2011, OSHA issued its first ever directive covering such citations. Among other things, the OSHA directive tells OSHA inspectors to determine if workplace violence is a “recognized” hazard warranting citation under the GDC. Risk factors listed by the directive include whether the job involves:

  • Working with unstable or volatile persons in certain healthcare, social service or criminal justice settings;
  • Working alone or in small numbers;
  • Working late at night or during early morning hours;
  • Working in high-crime areas;
  • Guarding valuable property or possessions;
  •  Working in community-based settings, such as community mental health clinics, drug abuse treatment clinics, pharmacies, community-care facilities and long-term care facilities;
  • Exchanging money in certain financial institutions;
  • Delivering passengers, goods or services; and
  •  Having a mobile workplace such as a taxicab.

In addition, in the past 2 years or so, OSHA has handed out more citations for workplace violence than at any other time in its history.





South Park Inc., No. 12-1416-SEA (SF 147), Reg. 10, July 18, 2012 $4,900 for serious violation of exposing workers to attack by a violent patient OSHA inspected Idaho group home in response to reports of repeated attacks by patient against workers in residential habilitation program
GEO Group Inc., No. 12-1120-ATL (205), Reg. 4, June 12, 2012 $70K for willful violation of not doing enough to protect inmates from threat of assault by inmates OSHA inspected Mississippi prison facility in response to complaint from one of the guards
Lakeview Specialty Hospital, Reg. 5, May 2012 $12K total proposed fines, including serious GDC violation for not protecting employees from violence (also 3 other-than-serious recordkeeping violations) OSHA inspected Wisconsin specialty hospital for brain injuries, neurological disorders and mental disabilities after employee complains that he was beaten and threatened by patient
Renaissance Project, Reg. 2, April 2011; settled Nov. 2011 $28K total proposal fines, including unspecified amount for serious GDC violation of not developing comprehensive workplace violence program—settled for $17.290K and agreement to implement program OSHA inspected NY addiction treatment facility after untrained security guard, working alone, was fatally stabbed by a client
North Suffolk Mental Health Association, Reg. 1, July 2011 $7K proposed for serious GDC violation—not protecting workers from physical assault OSHA inspected Mass. group home after senior counselor, working alone, was abducted and killed by a resident
Acadia Hospital, Reg. 1, Jan. 2011 $6.3K proposed for serious GDC violation—not implementing workplace violence program OSHA inspects Maine psychiatric hospital after receiving complaints and finds documentation of at least 115 incidents from 2008 to 2010 where a worker was assaulted by a patient
Danbury Hospital, Reg. 1, July 2010 $6.3K proposed for serious GDC violation—not implementing workplace violence program OSHA inspects Connecticut psychiatric hospital after receiving complaints and finds documentation of at least 25 cases where employees lost workdays or were put on restrictive duty after being injured by patients

A few observations:

  • Most of these citations were issued against health institutions in “community-based settings,” one of the risk factors cited in the directive;
  • In many cases, there was a history of attacks by clients/patients on employees; and
  • Most of the cases were unplanned inspections (several were prompted by a fatal attack on an employee working alone; others were initiated in response to complaints).

8 Ways to Protect Yourself

The other thing the cases have in common is what the employer did wrong—or, more precisely, didn’t do right. In all cases, the reason OSHA handed out a GDC citation was that the employer failed to implement a workplace violence prevention program. Doing the things these employers failed to do is the key to ensuring you don’t get cited for a workplace violence violation including:

1. Adopting a written statement by management expressing zero tolerance of violence (Click here to find out how to draft such a policy; Click here for a Model Policy you can adapt);

2. Conducting a workplace violence hazard assessment (Click here to access a set of task-specific violence assessment forms you can adapt in performing your own hazard assessment);

3. Identify which patients/clients posed risks of violence (Click here to find out how to survey supervisors to identify violence risks; click on the link for a Model Supervisor Survey; click here to find out how to survey employees to identify violence risks; and click on the link for an Employee Survey you can adapt for this purpose);

4. Develop administrative and engineering controls, including safe work procedures for employees who work alone or are at risk of violence (Click here for a set of safe work procedures you can adapt);

5. Establish a system for employees to report threats and incidents of violence (Click here for a workplace violence reporting policy you can adapt; click here for a Model Form you can have employees use to report threats of violence);

6. Investigate and respond to complaints of workplace violence (Click here to find out about the pitfalls to avoid while investigating workplace violence complaints);

7. Provide safety training to employees exposed to workplace violence hazards (Click here to find out how to document such training; click here for a Safety Talk on violence that you can give to your employees); and

8. Develop emergency response procedures in case of violence (Click here for a Safety Talk on how to respond to violence emergencies that you can give to your employees).