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New directive on workplace violence handed down by OSHA

When asked to identify the main causes of work injuries/workplace fatalities, most employers would probably list falls, malfunctioning machinery, transportation accidents and electrocution. While this list would not be inaccurate, it would still omit one key cause: workplace violence.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workplace violence - defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) as "any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site" - is among the top four causes of worker fatalities over the last 15 years.

Furthermore, the agency found that between 2006 to 2010, over 3,000 people were killed and 15,000 suffered serious work injuries due to workplace violence.

Somewhat surprisingly, the sectors in which employees are perhaps most susceptible to workplace violence were identified as late-night retail, social services and health care.

For example, OSHA recently fined a psychiatric hospital in Maine over $6,000 for failing to protect staff against workplace violence by patients. (An inspection revealed that from 2008 to 2010, there were over 90 incidents of employees being assaulted.)

In response to this problem, OSHA has officially released a directive creating uniform policies/procedures for agency staff to follow when conducting inspections and/or responding to complaints of workplace violence.

Interestingly, the new directive coincides with the release of a new website designed to help employers prevent workplace violence.

"[Workplace violence] can be avoided or decreased if employers take appropriate precautions to protect their workers," said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. "We have accompanied this directive with a new Web page on Preventing Workplace Violence to help employers address workplace violence issues."

Some of the OSHA recommendations for employers include the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence, increased employee training, audits to measure the potential for workplace violence and certain safety measures.

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Related Resources:

OH&S, "OSHA issues compliance directive to address workplace violence" Sept. 12, 2011

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