What is workplace violence?
Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors. Homicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the 4,679 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2014, 403 were workplace homicides. [More…] However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a major concern for employers and employees nationwide.
Who is at risk of workplace violence?
Nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year. Unfortunately, many more cases go unreported. Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites. Such factors include exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence. Providing services and care, and working where alcohol is served may also impact the likelihood of violence. Additionally, time of day and location of work, such as working late at night or in areas with high crime rates, are also risk factors that should be considered when addressing issues of workplace violence. Among those with higher-risk are workers who exchange money with the public, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel, and those who work alone or in small groups.
How can workplace violence hazards be reduced?
In most workplaces where risk factors can be identified, the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. One of the best protections employers can offer their workers is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. This policy should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel.
By assessing their worksites, employers can identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring. OSHA believes that a well-written and implemented workplace violence prevention program, combined with engineering controls, administrative controls and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence in both the private sector and federal workplaces.
This can be a separate workplace violence prevention program or can be incorporated into a safety and health program, employee handbook, or manual of standard operating procedures. It is critical to ensure that all workers know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly. In addition, OSHA encourages employers to develop additional methods as necessary to protect employees in high risk industries.
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers’ rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers’ rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small business employers may contact OSHA’s free and confidential On-site Consultation program to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites and work with OSHA on correcting any identified hazards. Consultants in this program from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations. To contact OSHA’s free consultation service, go to OSHA’s On-site Consultation web page or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers’ Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA’s Workers’ page.
The following references provide guidance for evaluating and controlling violence in the workplace.
- Preventing Workplace Violence in Healthcare. OSHA, (2015). The strategies and tools presented in this section are intended to complement OSHA’s Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers. The Guidelines describe the five components of an effective workplace violence prevention program, with extensive examples.
- Updated Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers (EPUB | MOBI). OSHA Publication 3148, (2015).
- Preventing Violence Against Taxi and For-Hire Drivers. OSHA Fact Sheet, (April 2010).
- Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments. OSHA Publication 3153, (2009).
- Workplace Violence. OSHA Fact Sheet, (2002). Also available in Spanish. Provides basic information about vulnerable occupations, employer/employee roles in prevention and protection, and recommendations for response to violent incidents.
- Hospital. OSHA eTool.
- Workplace Violence. Includes recommendations for establishing a violence prevention program.
- Young Worker Safety in Restaurants. OSHA eTool. Provides young employees and their employers safety solutions for workplace violence in specific areas of a restaurant.
Other Federal Agency Guidance
- Home Healthcare Workers: How to Prevent Violence on the Job. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2012-118, (February 2012).
- Workplace Violence Prevention Strategies and Research Needs. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2006-144, (September 2006).
- Violence on the Job. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-100d, (2004). Provides streaming video resources that discusses practical measures for identifying risk factors for violence at work, and taking strategic action to keep employees safe. Based on extensive NIOSH research, supplemented with information from other authoritative sources. Transcript also available.
- Stress… at Work. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 99-101, (1999). Highlights knowledge about the causes of stress at work and outlines steps that can be taken to prevent job stress.
- Preventing Homicide in the Workplace. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 93-109, (May 1995). Helps employers and employees to identify high-risk occupations and workplaces, informs employers and employees about their risks, encourages employers and employees to evaluate risk factors in their workplaces and implement protective measures, and encourages researchers to gather more detailed information about occupational homicide and to develop and evaluate protective measures.
- Occupational Violence. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topic. Provides basic information on workplace violence including risk factors and prevention strategies.
- New Directions from the Field: Victims Rights and Services for the 21st Century (PDF). U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Chapter 12 of the New Directions report on crime victims, (August 1998). Deals with victims rights and services in the business environment, and contains a section on workplace violence and provides practical advice for the business community on assisting the victims of workplace violence.
- Dealing with Workplace Violence: A Guide for Agency Planners (PDF). U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Assists those who are responsible for establishing workplace violence initiatives at their agencies. This handbook is the result of a cooperative effort of many federal agencies sharing their expertise in preventing and dealing with workplace violence.
State and Local Guidance
- Workplace Safety Consultation – Workplace Violence Prevention. Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry. Provides links to prevention resources including workplace violence videos, links to other organizations and training resources:
- A Comprehensive Guide for Employers and Employees *. Provides guidance to develop and implement a workplace violence prevention program. Includes model policy, sample forms, threat and assault log, five warning signs of escalating behavior, sample workplace weapons policy, sample policy about domestic violence in the workplace and personal conduct to minimize violence.
- Violence Prevention Brochure: Maintaining a Safe Workplace. University of California – Davis (UC Davis). Presents information designed to highlight stresses and risks in the work environment, to enhance workplace safety, and to reduce and prevent disruption and violence.
- MINCAVA Electronic Clearinghouse – Workplace Violence. Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse (MINCAVA), University of Minnesota (UM). Provides resources identified by the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse specific to workplace violence.