Posted By Nadia A. Klarr of Taft Law, Thursday, June 13, 2019
The recent tornadoes that hurled through the Dayton region left devastation and distress to the entire community. While these kinds of natural disasters can be anticipated with some degree of meteorological certainty, there is very little the community can do to avert the calamity they cause. And we all know the harm they have caused to many in our communities, as well as the emotional and financial setback many individuals and employers have faced as a result.
In the aftermath of such unpreventable destruction, the question becomes: what are you doing as an employer to protect your employees from dangers that can be both anticipated and limited or prevented (at least to some degree)?
Each year, approximately two million American workers are victims of violence in the workplace, which ranges from verbal threats to physical attacks and even homicide. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, homicide is the third leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States, accounting for approximately 11% of fatal workplace injuries. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) does not have a specific standard that addresses workplace violence; however, the General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to  employees.” 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1).
OSHA has already begun aggressively enforcing the General Duty Clause against employers with workplace violence incidents, and issuing citations based on inadequate workplace violence policies and insufficient training of employees.
Armed with this knowledge, employers must ask themselves what they are doing to protect their employees. If your answer falls short of (at the very least) identifying risks, creating and implementing a policy and action plan for addressing workplace violence, including active shooter scenarios, and providing training and annual assessments of your policy and training, then, rest assured, you’re not doing enough.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has identified several factors that may increase an employee’s risk for becoming a victim of workplace violence, including the following:
Contact with the public;
Exchange of money;
Delivery of passengers, goods, or services;
Having a mobile workplace, such as a taxicab or police cruiser;
Working with unstable or volatile persons in health care, social services, 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; and
Working in community-based settings.
OSHA has also published several sets of guidelines for various high-risk industries. Included in each set of guidelines are four basic elements:
management commitment and employee involvement in reducing the risk of workplace violence;
analysis of the worksite, including identifying high-risk situations through use of employee surveys, workplace walkthroughs, and review of injury reports;
hazard prevention and control, which involves the creation and implementation of workplace practices and controls to limit and/or prevent incidents of workplace violence; and
training and education to ensure that all employees have knowledge of potential hazards and how to protect themselves and their co-workers from violence.
While all employers should take these steps to protect their employees, nothing can guarantee that an employee will not become a victim of workplace violence. Employers can, and should, certainly take steps to reduce the likelihood of such incidents, but they should also be prepared with a procedure for responding to incidents of workplace violence should they occur. Post-incident response must include reporting mechanisms, investigation protocols, and treatment options for victimized employees.
While not as destructive as a natural disaster, workplace violence can cause tremendous harm to its victims and overall harm and disturbance to the employer’s workplace. Unlike the Dayton twisters, however, workplace violence is an identifiable risk that can be limited and in some cases prevented. But to do so, the employer must assess what steps it needs to take in order to protect its employees.
For additional information on preventing workplace violence, or for assistance in developing a comprehensive policy, use your Legal Services Plan and contact Nadia A. Klarr at (937) 641-2055 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.