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Risks and Liabilities of Workplace Violence
By Jody Pellerin
December 18, 2017
While construction sites are not the most common places for workplace violence, the incidence at jobsites is still too high. It is a recognized hazard that requires more awareness and mitigation measures than it is being given.
What is the true risk of violence in the construction industry and what are the liabilities your construction company may face if violence breaks out on one of your sites?
Defining Workplace Violence
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as “…any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the workplace setting.” It can include physical violence, intimidation, rape, harassment, profanity, threats, obscene phone calls, following, or shouting at someone, or any other disruptive or potentially dangerous behavior.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries that in 2015, 8.6 per cent of 4,836 fatalities in the workplace were homicides. The total was 417, more than one a day. Also, OSHA states that almost 2 million people report workplace violence annually, and there are probably many more cases that go unreported.
Every workplace is at risk of violence from current or former employees, customers, an intimate partner of an employee, or a total stranger with no relation to anyone at the scene. As an employer, you may be held liable.
OSHA and state agencies have no specific regulations regarding workplace violence. However, employers are required to provide employees a safe workplace without recognized hazards likely to cause serious harm or death, including workplace violence, by the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Therefore, if violence erupts at one of your jobsites, you may be liable under this clause. You can receive a citation for failing to eliminate or reduce recognized workplace violence hazards likely to cause serious physical harm or death to employees if there is a way to mitigate them. In addition, family members or employees may file legal claims requiring you to defend your policies and possibly pay steep penalties.
OSHA considers workplace violence an occupational hazard that can be minimized or avoided altogether if proper precautions are taken.
Reducing the Risk and Liability of Workplace Violence
The primary method of controlling workplace hazards and enforcing policy is through a written program developed and implemented for a specific hazard. A Workplace Violence Protection Program is a crucial component of the safety program at your jobsite.
The program should include training that helps employees and supervisors recognize potentially threatening situations or people, teaches them how to diffuse the issue or take action to protect themselves and others, and discusses the importance of reporting and investigating incidents.
OSHA provides publications, standards, compliance tools, and technical assistance to help you set up an effective workplace violence program. Beyond a written policy, you must talk about the program in terms of safety to avoid creating stress and panic. You should also hold practice drills to help everyone understand how to handle themselves in a violent crisis.
Finally, secure the workplace, so you know who comes and goes. The same security activities used to prevent theft and maintain safety also work well for monitoring visitors to the jobsite, retaining a daily record of employees, and providing an extra set of eyes for identifying potential issues.
No workplace is free of violence, but construction is already a dangerous industry. Know your risk and liability in the event of harassment, physical fights, and the discharge of weapons. Implement the appropriate programs, and keep your employees safe.
QUIZ: What is your safety IQ?
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