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Memphis business journal.examining ways to prevent and respond to workplace violence.2.1.13


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  • 1. Friday, February 1, 2013Examining ways to prevent and respond toworkplace violenceMemphis Business Journal by Barbara RichmanAs acts of workplace violence unfold across our country, there are times when we are faced withevents that many previously would have believed to be unthinkable. When these incidents takeplace, as they occurred recently at an elementary school in Connecticut where teachers andyoung children were gunned down, Americans are touched by a harsh reality. We are remindedthat this violence can occur anytime and anywhere and has the potential to impact not only thevictims, but also employers, families, communities and an entire nation. Although most acts ofworkplace violence are less horrific, they still can have a damaging effect on those involved andoverall organizations. Workplace violence is a concern that each employer should address.While acts of violence cannot be eradicated totally and no one is immune, proactive measurescan be taken by every employer. With the support of senior management, organizations canmake and communicate plans for preventing and responding to workplace violence.The following are questions and answers to assist employers in making preparations for theirworkplaces:1. Which federal agency establishes workplace safety and health standards? The OccupationalSafety and Health Administration sets and enforces workplace safety and health standards formost private workplaces. Public sector employees in a number of states, including Tennessee,also are covered by similar standards.2. How does OSHA define workplace violence? According to the agency, workplace violence isany act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptivebehavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaultsand homicide and can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.3. What types of information on workplace violence does OSHA provide for employers? Theagency’s website on workplace violence,, has tabs thatenable viewers to access information on risk factors, prevention programs, training and otherresources, and enforcement.4. What standards has OSHA established for workplace violence? Currently, there are nospecific standards. However, under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and
  • 2. Health Act (OSH Act), employers are required to provide a place of employment that “is freefrom recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm toemployees.”5. What legal obligations does the General Duty Clause establish for employers? The courts haveinterpreted the clause to mean that an employer has an obligation to provide a workplace free ofconditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and thatcause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasiblemethod to abate the hazard. Additionally, an employer that has experienced acts of workplaceviolence, or becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators showing that the potentialfor this violence exists, would be on notice of the risk and should implement a workplaceviolence prevention program combined with specific controls and training.6. Which workers are at higher risk of workplace violence? Workers identified by OSHA includethose who exchange money with the public, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, publicservice workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel, and those who work aloneor in small groups. The agency has issued a number of recommendations to prevent workplaceviolence for workers who are exposed to higher risks, such those working in late-night retailestablishments, taxi and for-hire drivers, and health care and social service workers.7. Has the organization developed a workplace violence policy and communicated it to allemployees? The policy that is adopted should provide examples of conduct that will not betolerated, forewarn employees that policy violations may result in discipline up to and includingtermination, and outline procedures for supervisors and employees to follow in the event ofoccurrences. It also should explain that it is the responsibility of all employees to reportsituations involving potential workplace violence and that no retaliation will result.8. Has supervision received training or information to assist them in understanding theirresponsibilities? For example, supervisors and other managers should receive guidance inidentifying early warning signs associated with workplace violence. Assistance also should begiven regarding persons or departments to contact to determine whether any actions should betaken.9. Has the organization identified and publicized resources that are available to employees whoare dealing with stress and other issues? Employee assistance programs are an example ofservices that employers can provide to assist employees in areas such as substance and alcoholabuse, anger management and financial matters.10. Have steps been taken to maximize the physical security of the workplace? Employersshould assess facilities and work sites to determine the level of protection necessary foremployees and other individuals at these locations. Any bans or restrictions on firearms orweapons should comply with state and local laws.11. Does the workplace reflect a respectful environment? There should be an expectation for allemployees to act in a manner that demonstrates respect for others. Those in leadership positions
  • 3. should serve as role models in their day-to-day interactions, including times when terminationsor other disciplinary actions are required.BARBARA RICHMAN is a senior consultant with HR Mpact, a Memphis human resourceconsulting firm, She can be reached at (901) 685-9084, (901) 496-0462