New OSHA Directive Tackles Workplace Violence Concerns…What Are You Doing About It?

Posted on: June 14th, 2015

In the last 15 years, deaths resulting from workplace violence have ranked among the top four causes of occupational fatalities in American workplaces and remains in the top 5 areas of workplace security concerns.  In response to this serious threat to worker safety, OSHA released a new compliance and enforcement directives on Sept of 2011 that offers procedures for agency staff who respond to workplace violence cases or complaints. Caution is always recommended in assuming that compliance is prevention but it at least takes a leap forward in being proactive as a regulatory body.  If you don’t educate on the value of prevention, compliance merely becomes another checklist protecting the organization but doing very little for education and increased awareness.

“The Directive identifies several broad categories of workplaces that OSHA says are prone to workplace violence, including sites where employees work with the public or volatile, unstable people, sites where employees work alone or in isolated areas, sites where employees handle money or valuables, and sites at which employees provide services and care. The Directive goes on to describe other factors that can create the likelihood of workplace violence, such as working late at night or working in areas with high crime rates”. 

OSHA’s directive focuses on two primary questions to determine whether or not an investigation or citation is appropriate: 

(1) Did the employer recognize potential hazards in the workplace?and (2) Are there feasible means of preventing or minimizing such hazards?

While incidents of Workplace Homicides are down, according to recent workplace violence reports, threats posed by the active shooter/hostile intruder are a workplace security nightmare with capacity to immobilize unprepared workplaces. However, the threat posed by nonfatal violent acts of workplace violence are a daily occurrence. Nonfatal acts of violence like harassment, threats, intimidation have been on the increase while destruction and sabotage of systems, equipment, property and vehicles ranks high as the weapon for the non-violent offender.  Workplaces should not only look at the homicidal threat of workplace violence but for the reasons why an employee might “go postal’. I don’t use the term to denigrate any organization but to emphasize the real and present danger that exist in workplaces when they fail to take “PREVENTION” seriously.

Sometimes the workplace culture contributes to the  unintentional consequences of workplace violence through its policies, practices, procedures, management and supervision.  The unknown impact of the nonfatal, non-violent incidents committed by nonviolent employees are cause for concern among supervisors, managers and human resources professionals who contend with them on a daily basis. Harassment, bullying, sabotage to systems and operations, product contamination, theft of sensitive information, compromise of proprietary information, theft of services, identity theft, work slow down etc., etc., contribute to diminished productivity and performance and increased stress.

Acts of defiance by non-violent people are as disruptive as the more serious “assaultive” conduct that leads to injury and even death. Such behavior gives rise for concern in our workplaces from groups who might resort to non-violent act of retaliation as described above. Do not make the assumptions in dealing with the threat of workplace violence. Defiance is a safe way for this type of offender to exact his or her vengeance without causing physical harm to people and yet get even. Disgruntled employees in particular take out their frustration in very unique ways simply because they have access to workplaces and vulnerable areas. When it comes to justification and rationale, imagination runs the gamut in terms of creative misconduct and reasoning.

Workplace Violence Prevention Policies and Plans can better serve the workplace in identifying potential contributing factors and at risk situations through collaboration and integration of resources. Violent prone employees become so by their workplace exposures, environmental and societal experiences or perhaps even changes in their personal, medical and mental well-being. The lead-in to acts of homicidal vengeance is a methodical choice that, I think is based on their extreme brand of rationale and justification. Exploitation of the workplace by the non-violent employee who engages in nonfatal, non-violent acts of workplace violence serve to harass and threaten the safety and security of other employees who, can find themselves retaliating if, they feel management is insensitive or frustrations rise through perceptions. This is why it’s important to act hastily on all employee reports and complaints and protect victims, witnesses and complainants. Workplaces that are not equipped to anticipate or recognize the known hazards or take preventative, precautionary and corrective measures are likely targets of opportunity for an unannounced OSHA Inspection.

Employers can take these 5 OSHA recommended steps prior to any incidents to keep their employees safe and minimize the risk of investigations or citations by OSHA:

1.  Analyze potential workplace hazards.

2. Implement reasonable safety measures.

3. Train employees.

4. Develop record-keeping practices.

5.  Reassess hazards periodically.

Workplace can take the implementation of Workplace Violence Prevention and Security Awareness seriously. Begin the process by conducting thoughtful critical assessment of your workplace violence prevention and security policies, plans and procedures. Conduct  work-site specific risk assessments and include security and business practices alike. Include employees in the process by utilizing surveys that attempt to uncover signs of disgruntled behavior, unknown hazards and situations or conditions exacerbated by poor supervision and the unintentional consequences of management business practices. Reduce existing security gaps in your current operations identified by the assessments. Institute countermeasures that provide as early warning signals of problems on the rise.

Support employee victims and complainants who come forward. Aggressively respond to and monitor employee hotline or complaint lines. Create an impression that the leadership cares through hasty intervention and monitoring.

Don’t assume that non-violent acts of workplace violence will not rise to a level of homicidal concern because you will find yourself asking why didn’t you take preemptive measures early on. Know that this threat’s capability while immediately  unknown is devastating in terms of impact on people and the organization’s performance, production, standing and brand along the way.

Take the following 10 steps NOW to minimize your risks and identify contributory practices and procedures:

  • Be proactive.
  • Implement credible reporting systems.
  • Educate supervisors and managers on recognizing at risk situations.
  • Conduct a thorough workplace specific violence risk assessment.
  • Review existing workplace violence prevention policy and plans, security management and emergency preparedness measures.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of your emergency evacuation plans as part of your violence response training.
  • Train your workforce on the impact and consequences of violent and non-violent acts.
  • Hold all employees accountable and responsible for engaging in or failing to report at risk situations & employees &  others.
  • Conduct annual facility and employee assessments and training.
  • Include workplace violence prevention in your New Employee Orientations.

You don’t want to be the employer of the employee who the media seems to always locate in the aftermath who says, “They knew he or she was nuts. We saw what he/she did”. When an incident occurs is not the time to prepare but to properly react.

5 Responses

  1. Hector Rosa says:

    I recommend to businesses and corporations to educate themselves in recognizing workplace violence so that you may interfere and rectify the problems before they arise. Also, since I am a retired Police Officer I am always willing to instruct employers, managers, owners, etc… how to read body language and recognize the signs of aggression, fear and anxiety. This kind of training will help employers, detect a problem, investigate it properly then make a proper decision whether it be termination, suspension, or a verbal warning. I don’t believe in zero tolerance policies because of how subjective WV can be. Some people view what is violent different than others

    • Felix says:

      Thank you for your response to my Guest Blog Post by myself and my associate John Byrnes. I believe that I always grow in perspective from differing points of view. What is your specific expertise in workplace violence prevention and workplace security? I am curious to know more about your reasoning for recommending that “businesses and corporations educate themselves in recognizing workplace violence so that you may interfere and rectify the problems before they arise”. How would you suggest this education process take place? Are you suggesting that internal capabilities are sufficient to achieve this level of education? I do agree that managing aggression in the early stages is critical in identifying at risk situations and individuals. Any and all skills we can share to help an individual identify aggression will minimize risk and help reduce the potential of aggressive action and possibly help the person get needed assistance. You are absolutely correct when you say that zero tolerance policies are subjective when it comes to workplace violence especially since they tend to shut down communications. Proper workplace violence prevention education and awareness will help employees understand the value of prevention by helping them see what a behaviors are considered contributory regardless of what one may or may not view as violent. Recognition of at risk behaviors is the key behind establishing appropriate boundaries. When we speak of identification of warning signs and at risk violent behavior, we are not asking the employee to identify what is a threat but to recognize the behavior and how it made him or her feel. I appreciate your input and interest in this topic and welcome future input and advice. Thank you.

  2. […] For years employers and their management have assumed there was some connection between Nonfatal Acts of violence and violence itself. As the highly respected security professional, Felix Nater has pointed out in his article, “New OSHA Directive Tackles Workplace Violence Concerns…What Are You Doing About It?” […]

  3. […] For years employers and their management have assumed there was some connection between Nonfatal Acts of violence and violence itself. As the highly respected security professional, Felix Nater, CSC has pointed out in his article, “New OSHA Directive Tackles Workplace Violence Concerns…What Are You Doing About It?” […]

    • Felix says:

      In this Blog I ask John Byrnes, CEO of Aggression Management to draw an important correlation between management commitment in understanding the need to invest in an appropriate prevention strategy and training tactics that deliver results. My experience has proven that most workplace violence prevention training does not enjoy senior management commitment or investment. John Byrnes and I believe that such prevention strategy must include quality training for supervisors and employees on recognizing at risk employees and situations and it starts at the top. Prevention should not be taken lightly as an evil requirement mandated by OSHA but a thoughtful integration, collaboration and coordination of effort involving people, policies, plans, procedures and technology. It our experienced opinions that the only way to achieve reliable Workplace Violence “Prevention,” as well as harassment, bullying and sabotage behavior is to implement the scientifically validated Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS)!

What are your thoughts?