Employers, Employees and Workplace Violence

by RaeAnne Marsh

shutterstock_175423754Workplace violence affects nearly 2 million American workers every year — more, actually, as that is just the number of incidents that are reported. According to Jessie Atencio, assistant director and consultation and training program manager for the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, violence can occur at any workplace, and he notes it is the responsibility of each employer to provide his employees a safe workplace.

ADOSH provides consultation and training to help employers address potential hazards. It also works from the enforcement standpoint — and can cite employers with fines from $7,000 to $70,000. “The fine really jumps if there is willful intent,” Atencio says, explaining this may apply if it can be shown the employer knew there were hazardous conditions or if conditions met specific citations in OSHA or ADOSH.

Conditions at a specific site may be evaluated by comparing with other sites in the industry. For instance, an owner of a late-night establishment could be cited if one of his stores did not have bullet-proof glass while others did.

It’s important for employers to have a zero tolerance policy toward hazardous conditions and behavior such as bullying and not reporting incidents of badgering, and build in accountability. “Everyone must be held to the same set of standards, even if an individual is a high performer or has a title,” Atencio says. Among those most vulnerable are nurses, utility workers, taxi drivers, letter carriers and those who work alone or at night, but all employees should be encouraged to report incidents of bullying or when they feel they’re in a hostile situation.

Potentially hazardous situations may be internal — employee to employee — or external, where there is interaction with the public, but Atencio notes employers may not shield themselves with the mantra “the customer is always right” — “The employer has a responsibility to the employee,” he affirms.

There is also the concept of “near misses,” which Atencio uses the example of Raytheon to illustrate. “Raytheon is one of the larger companies that does a lot of work with their employees,” he says. And they try to be proactive rather than just reactive, dealing with situations where employees were not hurt but could have been.

ADOSH offers free consultation and training programs to all employers and businesses in Arizona (except Native American businesses and the U.S. Post Office, as those are covered by the federal agency, OSHA). This includes educating them as to best practices from other businesses and what they should look for in their worksite environments.

Elements of a Good Workplace Violence Program Break Down into Four Parts:

Management & Employee Involvement with Commitment — Both need to be a stakeholder in the program to ensure it is being implemented and carried out the way it was drafted. All are accountable.

Worksite Analysis — The employee should evaluate the workplace for risk and determine what controls to use.

Hazard Prevention & Controls — After the analysis is completed, determine what controls are going to be used. ADOSH/OSHA use the hierarchy of controls: Engineering, Administrative or Personal Protective Equipment.

Training — Training is paramount for the success of the employee’s understanding of the program. It should be given initially and be ongoing throughout the employee’s term with the company or business.

Sobering Stats on Workplace Violence

  • In 2013, violence accounted for 1 out of every 6 workplace fatalities while transportation accounted for 2 out of every 5 work-related fatalities.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the preliminary data for 2013 shows that 753 workers were killed as a result of violence and other injuries by persons or animals, including 397 homicides and 270 suicides. The work-related suicide total for 2013 was 8 percent higher than the 2012 total.
  • Homicide is the second-leading cause of death for women in the workplace. In 2013, 22 percent of the 302 fatal work injuries to women were homicides, compared to 8 percent for men.
  • Shootings were the most frequent manner of death in both homicides (80 percent) and suicides (47 percent).
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries reported 14,770 workplace homicide victims between 1992 and 2012.
  • From 2003 to 2012, more than half of the workplace homicides occurred within three occupation classifications: sales and related occupations (28 percent), protective service occupations (17 percent), and transportation and material moving occupations (13 percent).

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