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OSHA Targets Workplace Violence


For decades, acts of workplace violence were viewed as being limited to altercations between employees and "active shooter" situations involving a disgruntled employee or former employee. Generally speaking, those incidents occur within the four walls of the workplace or nearby company parking lots. Violent incidents perpetuated by third-parties, whether within the four walls of the workplace or in remote locations were often considered criminal acts.

The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") generally did not investigate either type of incident, but instead deferred to local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the violent acts. Over the past several years, however, OSHA has taken increasing interest in workplace violence, whether the acts occur within the four walls of the workplace or in remote locations.

Recent Commission Decision

On December 10, 2012, Stephanie Nicole Ross, was stabbed to death by Lucious Smith, a man with a history of violence and severe mental illness. Ms. Ross was employed by a health management firm. Her job called for her to make contact with "high-cost" Medicaid recipients with chronic conditions to make sure that they took medicines and kept doctor appointments, with the goal of keeping them out of the emergency room. Ms. Ross met with Mr. Smith prior to her death, and her notes from prior visits indicated that she was uncomfortable meeting with him alone. After her death, her firm was cited for failing to conduct a hazard assessment of the position Ms. Ross held and for failing to develop a written program to prevent workplace violence hazards. The citations issued to her firm were upheld by OSHA Review Commission Judge Phillips, on June 10, 2015.

Employers encouraged to provide safety measures

OSHA defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening and disruptive behavior, ranging from ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide, which occurs at a work site. In addition to performing a hazard analysis related to violence within the "traditional" workplace, employers need to consider the workplace violence hazards faced by employed who work in remote locations, such as service technicians, outside sales people, delivery people, home health workers, and probation officers. Beyond performing this hazard analysis, employers need to implement a plan to eliminate workplace violence.

Included in the measures OSHA has recommended employers take to eliminate workplace violence for those employed in remote or field locations include:

  • equipping employees with cellular phones, hand-held alarms/panic buttons1, and noise devices;
  • requiring employees to prepare a daily work plan and keep a contact person informed of their location throughout the day;
  • properly maintaining employer provided vehicles;
  • instructing employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe;
  • using a "buddy system;" and
  • providing an escort service or police assistance in potentially dangerous situations.

More information

Specific instructions and guidance from OSHA to employers in the healthcare, social service, residential care, late night retail, and taxi/hired car industries can be accessed by clicking these links:

1In response to a number of incidents involving postal workers, the United States Postal Service is deploying panic buttons to all mail delivery personnel that will permit minute-by-minute monitoring of employees.