Violence in the workplace is a major issue year-round, including during the holiday season when financial stress can lead to criminal acts. Employers must be aware of the risks of violence faced by employees and must ensure that they take steps to prevent injuries and deaths from occurring. While employers cannot prevent every single act of violence which occurs, they are required to take reasonable precautions to reduce the chances employees will be victimized by violence.
Preventing Employee Injuries and Fatalities Due to Workplace Violence
Safety BLR reports on a situation where an employer was held responsible by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a failure to protect workers from threats of violence. OSHA standards do not specifically address the obligation of a company to protect against violent acts, but a failure to provide adequate safeguards can be a violation of the general duty clause. In the case reported on by Safety BLR, it was this standard used to impose liability on an employer and the proposed penalty to be levied against the company was $7,000.
OSHA safety requirements and fines instituted by OSHA are separate from Boston workers’ compensation laws, which allow injured employees to make a claim for all on-the-job injuries. While OSHA investigates injuries, it will issue fines and citations only in situations where a company violated safety regulations. A workers’ comp claim, on the other hand, can be made even if no violation of safety rules occurred, as long as the employee’s injuries are demonstrated to be related to job tasks. This means even if an employer doesn’t face an OSHA citation due to violence, the employee harmed by violent acts can pursue a claim for workers’ comp benefits.
In the case reported on by Safety BLR, the employer’s failure to protect the workers did, however, rise to the level where a violation of OSHA’s general duty clause occurred. This is because “employees were exposed to the clearly recognized hazard of workplace violence in that they were exposed to physical assault while performing their routine duties.”
The employee was working alone at a gas station and was shot in the leg during the course of an armed robbery. OSHA found the employer had failed to take sufficient steps to reduce the chances of this type of incident. OSHA recommends employers aim to limit the threat of injuries due to violence by:
- Installing panic buttons, which an employee can press to alert local authorities to a robbery or threat.
- Creating physical barriers, such as bullet-resistant enclosures, which will separate staff from customers if there is a threat of a shooting.
- Considering the use of a drive-thru window for overnight or late-night customers when employees are working alone.
- Posting signs in stores informing potential armed robbers of security precautions such as cameras, limited cash which is accessible, and time-locked safe staff cannot open.
The development of a comprehensive program to help reduce workplace violence can ensure employers don’t face OSHA fines for failing their workers and can reduce the chances of a violent act causing harm to an employee.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
Increased Fines for Employers Who Do Not Maintain Workers’ Compensation Coverage , July 22, 2014, Boston Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog