26 July 2022

Workplace Violence: Prevent and Protect

We always think that it won’t happen to us. That “things like this” don’t happen “here.” But recent shootings in workplaces across the county – like at a grocery store in Buffalo, at a school in Uvalde, and at a manufacturing facility in western Maryland – should prompt employers to consider what they can and should do to protect their employees, customers and business from violent incidences in the workplace.

OSHA regulates workplace safety and requires employers to provide a safe workplace that is free from recognized hazards, but it does not currently have a specific occupational safety and health standard that directly addresses workplace violence. Nonetheless, employers need to be aware that certain types of worksites and workers are statistically at higher risk to experience workplace violence, and should take steps to identify appropriate precautions. Among the most vulnerable workers and worksites for workplace violence:

  • Workers who exchange money with the public,
  • Delivery drivers,
  • Healthcare professionals,
  • Public service workers,
  • Individuals who work alone or only in small groups,
  • Individuals who work in locations late at night, in areas with high crime rates, or in isolated areas

Of course, these are not the only types of employees or workplaces that could be victims of an incident of workplace violence. All employers, even those that do not operate “high risk” workplaces, should consider implementing appropriate precautions.

Appropriate Precautions

Employers should establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence that covers all workers, customers, visitors, any anyone else who may come into contact with the company or its employees. The policy should encourage employees to report all instances of suspected workplace violence, and should contain an investigation mechanism where the employer commits to investigating all violence incidents and threats and taking appropriate corrective action.

An employer’s zero-tolerance policy should be one piece of a larger “prevention program” developed after the employer has evaluated the various types of “threats” that could impact their workplace and employees. Employers should also identify relevant engineering and administrative controls to minimize the potential threat of workplace violence based on the threats specific to its employees and facilities. Engineering controls can include actions such as securing entry into the facility, implementing security monitoring (cameras or employing security personnel), or establishing a policy related to searches of company or personal property when there is reason to believe an employee has engaged in improper conduct. Administrative controls can include development of policies and processed related to pre-employment screening (understanding a potential employee’s behavior with a past employer) as well as training employees on how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potential violent situations utilizing the employer’s safety resources (such as security personnel, threat assessment team, or emergency code system). Of course, employers need to make sure that any policy, engineering, or administrative control complies with state and local law.

While no policy or program is an absolute protection against violence at work, understanding how to prepare for and react to violent conduct is imperative.


Contact the author Sandy Andre.