The on air shooting of two reporters at television station WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia on August 25, 2015 was a tragic reminder of the serious consequences of workplace violence. Although awareness has helped reduce the number of workplace homicides in recent years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides. Workplace homicides account for 17% of multiple-fatality incidents. Most homicides on the job are the result of a robbery, however, 15% for women and 19% for men of homicides result from a co-worker or associate. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Workplace violence can be a difficult hazard to assess and manage. Unlike workplace hazards that are tangible, such as a lack of machine guard or the misuse of PPE, workplace violence is more often than not unreported and can be subjective. There are no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence, however, under the General Duty Clause employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” The courts have interpreted OSHA’s general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard. (OSHA) Only two states, California and Washington, have OSHA state plans that enforce regulations requiring comprehensive safety programs in all workplaces that address preventing assaults on workers.
The instance of the case in Virginia is all too similar to other instances of workplace violence, leaving an employer to question what they are to do. The problems with the employee were obvious, and his manager began to document the issues not long after he began work. He was fired from his job within less than a year for his behavior and performance issues. The police were called to escort him out of the building, and the station hired off-duty police personnel to guard the building two days post his dismissal. The shooting happened over two years after the employee was fired. Prior to the shooting, despite his aggressive behavior, the employee had committed no crime nor had he had a documented history of mental illness.
Referring back to the general duty clause, how feasible is it to prevent an instance of workplace violence when you’ve seemingly done what you could and removed the issue from the workplace? Employers have to tread lightly on this topic. On one hand, you have an obligation to keep your workers safe, yet, you cannot discriminate against people with a disability which includes mental illness. In many cases, how best to handle workplace violence is a judgment call by the manager or employer. If there is an issue in your workplace, it may be best to consult legal counsel on how best to handle the situation, for all parties.
Workplace violence can range from bullying and threatening co-workers to the instance of an active shooter in the workplace. Co-worker to co-worker issues usually stem from interpersonal or work-related disputes. Workplace violence prevention programs and training are a must if you have had issues in the past and are a good idea in general for any workplace to have in place. Employees should feel comfortable reporting issues, and managers and supervisors need to be trained on how to deal with the issues as best they can. Workplace violence protocol is similar to having a first aid or emergency plan – ensuring everyone is trained and procedures are in place is the best chance to reduce the potential for incidents…or a catastrophe.
Attending the National Safety Council Congress & Expo September 26 – October 30, 2015? The NSC has identified Workplace Violence as a Hot Topic. A technical session, Workplace Violence – The Proactive Approach to Prevention, will be offered Wednesday, September 30.
Take an active approach to prevent workplace violence with the right training. Let’s talk about how we can help with online, DVD or onsite training options – give us a call, toll-free at 844.528.4486 or visit www.evolvedsafety.com today!