The workplace violence tragedy in Florida yesterday where a lone gunman killed five people and then himself at an Orlando awning factory is a sad reminder that workplace violence remains a serious issue for businesses. OSHA estimates that approximately 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year and that it can strike anywhere, at any time. In fact, during a recent fire drill at our building, the Fire Warden spoke not only about emergency exit procedures during a fire but protocols when an active shooter is in the building. Although it is a frightening scenario to think about, businesses can and should be proactive about identifying potential workplace violence incidents and providing appropriate training.
Although there are no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence, ignoring signs and failing to abate recognized hazards including workplace violence could lead to a violation of Section 5(a)(1), the general duty clause, of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Specifically, an employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats or other indicators showing the potential for workplace violence would be on notice for risk of workplace violence and should implement a workplace violence prevention program including engineering controls, administrative controls, and training as it generally should for any other kind of recognized hazard in the workplace. Indeed, some states such as New York already require certain employers (public employers) to have a written workplace violence program including conducting a hazard assessment.
Although it is too early to tell in the Orlando case what, if any, signs existed that might have predicted the shooting, law enforcement has stated that it appears the shooter was singling out individuals and that he had at least one negative relationship with one of the victims. In many of these tragedies, there may have been visible workplace violence signs or other indicators. (more…)