31 May 2016

Preparing For the Unimaginable: Your Workplace Violence Prevention Program

Workplace violence has been a serious safety hazard in American workplaces for some time. In 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 403 workplace homicides in the United States, accounting for approximately 9 percent of all workplace fatalities. The overwhelming majority of workplace homicides are committed by non-employees. Women are most likely to be murdered at work by a current or former domestic partner. Men are most likely to be killed in a robbery.

Although the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) has not promulgated specific standards for protecting employees from workplace violence, Michigan employers have a general duty to furnish to each employee “employment and a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to the employee.” MIOSHA has cited employers for exposing their employees to workplace violence hazards under this “General Duty” clause following incidents of assaults committed by customers and visitors.

MIOSHA encourages employers to implement a workplace violence prevention program to identify workplace violence risks in their workplace. This process involves identifying workplace violence hazards, determining methods of controlling or eliminating these hazards, training employees and supervisors, and preparing to respond to a violent incident.

Audit Your Workplace
The first step in drafting any workplace violence prevention program is to conduct an assessment of the workplace to identify existing or potential hazards that may lead to incidents of workplace violence. Employers should review their injury records and conduct a thorough review of their policies and operations to identify risks of workplace violence.

Implement Controls
After conducting this comprehensive worksite analysis, an employer should then consider steps to prevent or control the hazards identified. Engineering controls are physical changes to the workplace that may eliminate hazards. Installing physical barriers, locks, or panic buttons; placing better or additional lighting in poorly lit areas, or creating additional exits are all engineering controls that may reduce workplace violence risks. Administrative and work practice controls are changes to how work is performed. Implementing log-in/log-out policies, limiting when and where employees work alone, and establishing policies and procedures for secured areas and emergency evacuations are examples of administrative controls that may target workplace violence hazards.

Train Employees
An employer should train its employees so that they are aware of potential workplace violence hazards and how to protect themselves and their coworkers. Topics that should be covered in any training include: identified workplace violence hazards; the location, operation, and coverage of safety devices, such as alarm systems and panic buttons, and safe rooms; a standard response action plan for violent situations, including the availability of assistance; response to alarm systems and communication procedures; and policies and procedures for reporting and recordkeeping. Managers and supervisors should receive additional training to recognize high-risk situations, so they can ensure that workers are not placed in dangerous situations.

Your “Go Team”
An employer should also consider developing a crisis management team that can be mobilized quickly in the event of an incident or a viable threat. The response team should include representatives of management, human resources, and security. Employers may also wish to include legal counsel, who may be of assistance in obtaining a restraining order, and professional medical assistance that may be able to assist in deciding on how to respond to a specific threat. The crisis plan should also include strategies for communications with employees, including a method of being able to confirm the safe location of employees following an incident.

Unfortunately, no workplace violence prevention program will be able to prevent every instance of workplace violence or stop every individual who is intent on doing harm to others. A proactive approach to the problem, however, and developing and maintaining a workplace violence prevention program can eliminate easy targets and perhaps provide life-saving protections.

If you have any questions about this article or need assistance implementing a workplace violence prevention program, please contact one of the authors or your Miller Johnson employment attorney.