The killing last month of nine people by a fellow employee at a northern California rail yard was at least the fifth workplace shooting with multiple deaths in the U.S. this year.

While it serves as a stark reminder of the dangers of workplace violence, it should also prompt employers to review information from OSHA on assessing violence risks and developing prevention plans for individual worksites.

Workplace violence is defined as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.

It can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.

And it can impact and involve employees, clients, customers, and visitors.

Fatalities

Acts of violence are the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S.

Of the 5,333 fatal workplace injuries that happened in the U.S. in 2019, 454 cases were intentional injury by another person, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Acts of violence are the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S.

“However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a major concern for employers and employees nationwide,” OSHA said.

While many American workers report being victims of workplace violence each year, many cases go unreported.

Risk Factors

OSHA said research has identified certain factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites.

These include:

  • Exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people
  • Working alone or in an isolated area
  • Providing services and care, and working where alcohol is served
  • The time of day and location—working late at night or in a high-crime area

In addition to work hours and location, the work you do can increase the risk of workplace violence.

Positions with higher risk include 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.

Precautions

Reducing the likelihood of workplace violence begins with identifying risk factors and taking appropriate precautions, OSHA said.

One of the best precautions an employer can take is to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.

The policy should cover workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who comes in contact with your company’s personnel. 

Reducing the likelihood of workplace violence begins with identifying risk factors and taking appropriate precautions.

It should clearly state that violations of the policy will lead to disciplinary action, possible dismissal, and criminal prosecution where appropriate.

It should identify actions not allowed, including interfering with normal work activities, making physical or verbal threats, or endangering another person’s health or safety.

It should identify disruptive behavior, threatening behavior, and violent behavior.

Incident Reduction

Employers can assess worksites to identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents.

OSHA said 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 the private sector and government workplaces.

It's critical that workers know the policy and understand that claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied.

This can be a separate workplace violence prevention program or it can be incorporated into a safety and health program, employee handbook, or manual of normal operating procedures.

It’s critical to ensure that workers know the policy and understand that claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.

OSHA has these suggestions for workplace violence prevention programs.


For more information, contact CBIA’s Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1900).