Compliance Without Requirements: OSHA’s Guidelines for Protecting Your Employees from Workplace Violence

OSHA Graphic 2According to their own government website, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has “currently no specific standards for workplace violence”.

However, under Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, commonly known as the “General Duty Clause”, OSHA has the authority to cite employers for failing to make efforts in the prevention of workplace violence.

These prevention efforts are reiterated in the wording of the statutory provision under the General Duty Clause which states that employers must provide employees with a workplace that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees”.

Depending on certain circumstances, OSHA may place workplace violence among the “recognizable hazards” your business must strive to prevent or minimize.

Without any specific standards established by OSHA, what rules do you need to know and follow?

How can you avoid being cited for failing to prevent workplace violence?

How can your organization achieve compliance when there are no workplace violence requirements?


OSHA provides numerous resources that provide guidance for evaluating and controlling workplace violence. Utilizing these guidelines in your business will better ensure the safety of employees and help your organization be more compliant under the General Duty Clause.

The main guidelines every employer should be aware of are as follows:

  • Establish a business-wide workplace violence prevention plan with procedures and policies that account for your specific industry and daily business activities.
  • Provide safety education and training to employees for the purpose of (1) identifying suspicious behavior and (2) reacting to workplace violence or an active shooter scenario.
  • Instruct employees not to enter locations that they feel are dangerous or unsafe.
  • In dangerous situations or at night, establish a “buddy system” or provide an escort service or police assistance to deter potential workplace violence.
  • Employees working in the field should always be equipped with a cellular phone and a hand-held alarm or noise device. Additionally, a detailed plan of your employee’s day should be crafted, allowing the employer to know the whereabouts of his/her employees at all times.
  • During the late night or early morning (high-risk hours), if possible establishments should be closed.
  • Establish identification badges, electronic keys, and security guards, to minimize non-employee access.
  • High-risk areas should be made visible to more people.
  • Install good external lighting, silent alarms, surveillance cameras, and bullet-proof barriers or enclosures.
  • Depending upon your industry, minimize cash on hand.
  • Increase the number of staff on duty.
  • Have police or security check on workers routinely.
  • Encourage employees to report and log all incidents and threats of workplace violence. These reports of violent incidents and threats should be brought before local police promptly.

To better understand and follow OSHA’s guidelines, learn more here.

What To Do, and What Not To Do

Although employers may lack specific insight into what they should be doing to prevent workplace violence, according to OSHA, we can gain understanding from the mistakes and successes of past employers and the employers who are currently working to rid the workplace of danger and violence.

The following information cannot create additional employer obligations, rather it is OSHA’s effort to explain requirements and how they apply to particular situations.

We hope OSHA’s interpretation of their past and current regulations is helpful in your attempt to understand and follow OSHA’s guidelines on workplace violence.

 Dec. 10, 1992 – Does OSHA Have Standards That Address Violent Employee Behavior (view the entire article, here)

In response to a letter inquiring about OSHA’s standards and rules for workplace violence, Roger A. Clark, Director of Enforcement Programs, responded as follows, “…the occurrence of acts of violence which are not “recognized” as characteristic of employment and represent random antisocial acts which may occur anywhere would not subject the employer to a citation for a violation of the OSH Act.

Whether or not an employer can be cited for a violation of Section 5(a)(1) is entirely dependent upon the specific facts, which will be unique in each situation. The recognizability and foreseeability of the hazard, and the feasibility of the means of abatement are some of the critical factors to be considered.”

Oct. 23, 1996 – How Are Violations Determined Under the General Duty Clause (view the entire article, here)

 According to Assistant Secretary, Joseph A. Dear, “Citations for violation of the General Duty Clause are issued when the four components of this provision are present, and when no specific OSHA standard has been promulgated to address the recognized hazard. These four elements are: 1) the employer failed to keep his workplace free of a “hazard”; 2) the hazard was “recognized” either by the cited employer individually or by the employer’s industry generally; 3) the recognized hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and 4) there was a feasible means available that would eliminate or materially reduce the hazard.”

Feb. 9, 2009 – Determining Injuries That Are Work-Related (view the entire article, here)

In regards to determining work related injuries, Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis, Keith Goddard said, “Under 29 CFR Subpart C, “Recordkeeping Forms and Recording Criteria,” an injury must be recorded if it is work-related, is a new case, and meets one or more of the general recording criteria (such as requiring medical treatment beyond first aid). See 29 CFR §1904.4(a). An injury is presumed to be work-related if it results from an event occurring in the work environment, unless an enumerated exception to this geographic presumption applies. See 29 CFR §1904.5(a). The work environment includes any location where one or more employees are working or are present as a condition of their employment. See 29 CFR §1904.5(b)(1).”

Nov. 19, 2012 – Workplace Violence Vulnerabilities Within Certain Work Environments (here is the entire article)

“Handling money, working alone and standing behind open counters leaves employees vulnerable to violent crimes,” said Stephen Boyd, OSHA’s area director in Dallas. “If the employer had conducted an analysis to identify risk for violence, implemented appropriate control measures and provided training to ensure awareness of potential violence, it is possible that this tragic loss of life could have been avoided.” 

Jan. 31, 2013 – Workplace Violence Whistle-Blower Rights (read the whole article, here)

Helena-based Kbec Inc. faced a lawsuit from the United State Department of Labor after illegally terminated an employee for making complaints regarding workplace violence at the company’s facility.

“Employees should be free to exercise their rights under the law without fear of termination or retaliation by their employers,” said Gregory Baxter, regional administrator of the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Denver. “This lawsuit underscores the department’s commitment to vigorously take action to protect workers’ rights.”

You can learn more at:

Jun. 10, 2013 – Maryland’s Integra Health Management Cited Following Employee Death (view the entire article, here)

A service coordinator was fatally stabbed by a patient during a required face-to-face hospitalization risk assessment that took place at the patient’s home in Dade City.

In addition to the employee previously raising concerns about the patient, the patient already had a criminal history of violent behavior. Thus, a serious safety violation was cited for exposing employees to incidents of violent behavior by a patient that resulted in death.

“This incident could have been prevented if the employer had a comprehensive, written, workplace violence prevention program to address hazards and assist employees when they raise concerns about their safety,” said Teresa Harrison, OSHA’s acting regional administrator for the Southeast.

Aug. 11, 2014 – Inadequate Workplace Violence Safeguards at Brooklyn Medical Facility (read the entire article, here)

In response to a complaint, the Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn faces $78,000 after OSHA found 40 reported incidents of workplace violence.

“Brookdale management was aware of these incidents and did not take effective measures to prevent assaults against its employees. The facility’s workplace violence program was ineffective, with many employees unaware of its purpose, specifics or existence,” said Kay Gee, OSHA’s area director for Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.


Employers who implement effective safety measures and prevention plans can reduce the incidence of workplace violence. ALICE Training can prepare and train your employees to properly react to workplace violence, while establishing a business-wide emergency response plan that will improve employee safety and protect your company from potential lawsuits and OSHA citations.

Call or contact ALICE Training to learn more or schedule a training session for you and your employees.

For industry specific statistics, research, and recommendations, here are five additional resources to assist you in your efforts to protect your employees and prevent workplace violence:

  1. OSHA Fact Sheet on Workplace Violence
  2. Workplace Violence Prevention for Healthcare and Social Service Workers
  3. OSHA Fact Sheet on Taxi and For-Hire Drivers
  4. Preventing Workplace Violence Late-Night Retail Establishments
  5. Preventing Homicides in the Workplace