OHSA, Legislations & Standards
As we have increasingly discovered what works and what does not in terms of the prevention and management of Workplace Violence, there has been a growing consensus as to what needs to be done, and how. Subsequently, there has been an increased focus by regulatory, legislative, and professional organizations on this subject.
On September 8, of this past year (2011), the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new "Compliance Directive" specifically addressing the issue of Workplace Violence.
This is a subject that was first addressed by OSHA in 1996, when it issued a set of guidelines for preventing Workplace Violence for health care workers and social service workers, followed by a set of recommendations for retail establishments in 1998. Relying on OSHA's General Duty Clause, OSHA announced that it may cite and fine employers for failing to provide workers with adequate safeguards against workplace violence after an investigation.
There were, however, relatively few citations issues in the years immediately after these initial guidelines. However, that appears to be changing rather dramatically. In the past 3 years, OSHA has issued numerous citations addressing Workplace Violence, demonstrating a significantly heightened interest in the subject - and not just in the health care and retail areas.
The current OSHA administration has established a new enforcement paradigm, that very clearly makes workplace violence more of a priority. Through this new Directive and through this recent increase in citations, employers have been put on notice that they may be in violation of the General Duty Clause if they lack some or all of identified measures that abate the occurrence of acts of violence toward employees.
The new Directive specifically highlights the steps that investigators should take in reviewing incidents of Workplace Violence when considering whether to initiate an inspection. It contains instructions for investigators but also contains recommendations for employers, regardless of industry or risk factors, including providing training to employees on Workplace Violence and developing a written and comprehensive Workplace Violence Program. In the words of one OSHA area director where some of these citations occurred, "prevention, protection, communication and awareness training are critical to safeguarding...workers."
In regards to Workplace Violence legislation, we reported in one of our newsletters during this past year about the Workplace Violence legislation that has been sweeping the Canadian provinces. And again more recently, we reported on recent legislation in the state of Connecticut that requires any health care institution with 50 or more workers to set up ongoing Workplace Violence committees, to make annual Workplace Violence assessments and to institute a Workplace Violence Prevention and Response Plan.
At last count, 9 states have passed similar legislation, some industry-specific, but others more comprehensive. In addition, states and other countries are increasingly interested in controlling all forms of aggressive behavior in the workplace, variously referred to as "bullying" and "mobbing" for example.
It has been my observation that when governments begin addressing these issues, it seems that the legislation typically targets health care and retail settings initially, due to the high prevalence of violence in these settings, but also because of their critical service to the public. The next step has usually been to broaden these requirements to other work environments.
Finally, ASIS International and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently combined forces to create a "Standard" on best Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention practices. Approved by the American National Standards Institute, this "Standard" describes the primary ingredients involved in the implementation of a Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Program, and the protocols for effective incident management and resolution. This document can be downloaded from the ASIS International website.