Workplace violence is an occupational safety and health hazard that demands action. Whether the risk of violence comes from a co-worker, client, patient or the public, employees deserve a safe workplace. Employers must be provided with tools to develop comprehensive plans to reduce levels of risk. State programs are developing
formal rules as well as voluntary guidelines to help employers prevent this type of workplace hazard.
Oregon has taken a strong information and training approach to create awareness and encourage action. By creating several publications and working directly with the Associated Oregon Industries and other groups, statewide education network training forums have addressed this emerging area. Cal/OSHA held conferences on workplace security in a drive to increase awareness of the issue, promote additional research, and develop guidelines requested by safety and health professionals for preventing workplace violence. If present, indicators of violence in the workplace require further evaluation. Although workplace violence is part of a larger societal problem, the employer is still required under the California Labor Code to provide a safe and healthful place of employment. Employers at risk of robbery or other violent assaults must address workplace security in their injury and illness prevention program.
Indiana has issued general duty clause citations on workplace violence. New Mexico settled a Section 11(c) discrimination case involving workplace violence. Two employees with a history of fighting were involved in a fight at work. One complained and was subsequently transferred 60 miles away to another duty station. The employer did not reprimand the employee who was the aggressor in all the altercations.
Minnesota established the Workplace Violence Prevention Team in 1993 to research workplace violence and recommend a course of action for MNOSHA. Members include staff from MNOSHA Compliance and Workplace Safety Consultation. An essential member of the team is the Violence Prevention Coordinator, a full-time state-funded position. MNOSHA Compliance answers questions about workplace violence and responds to complaints about workplace violence. One of several onsite investigations conducted in 1998 resulted in a citation under the general duty standard. The team developed an informational fact sheet, posted on MNOSHA’s website athttp://www.doli.state.mn.us/wvp_fact.pdf.
Minnesota’s Workplace Violence Prevention Center, established in 1997, continues to grow and provides information to the public. The Minnesota Violence Prevention Program forms cross-disciplinary partnerships with other violence prevention programs to create a statewide initiative. Through a successful partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health Prevention Institute and Education Development Center, Minnesota took part in a nationwide satellite training session on youth violence prevention, with over 2000 participants. In 1998, MNOSHA trained over 1500 employers and employees in 36 violence prevention training sessions at ten regional centers.
Washington developed safety and health standards for the late night retail industry in 1990, and uses enforcement and consultation resources to encourage hazard abatement and prevention. The Workplace Violence Awareness and Prevention workshop helps participants assess risk factors and develop preventive measures. A written guidebook covering these topics and a sample prevention program were developed by WISHA, along with over 30 representatives of labor, business and the academic community (http://www.wa.gov/lni/pa/workvil.htm). WISHA’s video Is It Worth Your Life? with real-life scenarios demonstrates what workers and employers can do to prevent injuries. The video is distributed to employer networks and associations and may be reproduced.
In 1997, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program completed a comprehensive study of workplace violence based on federal and state data for 1992-95 (http://www.wa.gov/lni/sharp/39-2-97.pdf). Homicide was the fourth leading cause of workplace deaths in Washington state, and most incidents were consistent with well-known risk factors. Most were committed by persons unknown to the victims and most of the victims worked in retail trade, security services or transit. The majority of non-fatal injuries also occurred in predictable settings, but in contrast to the fatal assaults, most of these injuries occurred in a setting where the victim and attacker were in a custodial or client-caregiver relationship, such as health care or social services. Especially notable is that while the trend for assaults against private sector workers in the state was downward, that for state government workers was rising. This study counters the notion that violence on the job is a random event, and consequently impervious to remedy. Prevention strategies, such as hazard assessment and de-escalation training, are available to address the risk factors in each work setting.