Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Workplace violence has emerged as an important safety and health issue in today's workplace. Its most extreme form, homicide, is the third leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), there were 674 workplace homicides in 2000, accounting for 11% of the total 5,915 fatal work injuries in the United States (1). Environmental conditions associated with workplace assaults have been identified and control strategies implemented in a number of work settings. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed guidelines and recommendations to reduce worker exposures to this hazard but is not initiating rulemaking at this time.


Non-fatal assaults
Between 1993 and 1999 in the United States, an average of 1.7 million violent victimizations per year were committed against persons who were at work or on duty, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) (2). The NCVS is the nation's primary source of information on the frequency, characteristics, and consequences of criminal victimization. One of the largest continuous household surveys conducted by the Federal Government, the NCVS collects information about crimes, both reported and not reported to police. The survey provides the largest national forum for victims to describe the impact of crime and the characteristics of violent offenders.

Overall, 18% of violent crimes (22% of all male and 15% of all female violent crimes) were committed while the victim was working or on duty. These acts of non-fatal violence include rape and sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault. The rate of violent crime experienced by persons at work or on duty was 13 per 1,000 persons in the workforce. Police officers experienced workplace violent crime at rates higher than all other occupations (261 per 1,000 police officers) (2).

The BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses reports a total of 16,664 workplace non-fatal assaults and violent acts with lost work-days in 1999. The Survey is a Federal/State program in which employer's reports are collected annually from about 176,000 private industry establishments and processed by State agencies cooperating with the BLS. Injuries and illnesses logged by employers conform with definitions and recordkeeping guidelines set by OSHA. Under those guidelines, nonfatal cases are recordable if they are occupational injuries which involve lost worktime, medical treatment other than first aid, restriction of work or motion, loss of consciousness, or transfer to another job. The industries with the highest incidence rates are: social services with a rate of 14 assaults per 100 full time equivalent workers and health services with 9 assaults per 100 full time equivalent workers. The national average is 1.8 assaults per 100 full time equivalent workers (3).

Workplace homicides in 2000 were the third leading cause of job-related deaths. The leading motive for workplace homicide is robbery. Job-related homicides in the retail industry account for almost half of all workplace homicides. Of the 3,829 workplace homicides in 1996-2000, the industries with the highest numbers of homicides are: retail - 1,693, services - 659, and government - 415. The occupations with the highest risk of fatal injury are taxicab drivers, police, private guards, and managers of food-serving and lodging establishments. In 1998 taxicab drivers' risk of dying on the job was 36 times that of the national average. Overall, however, work-related homicides decreased 34% from 1994 to 1998 (4).

Risk factors
Factors which may increase a worker's risk for workplace assault, as identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), are (5):
  • Contact with the public
  • Exchange of money
  • Delivery of passengers, goods, or services
  • Having a mobile workplace such as a taxicab or police cruiser
  • Working with unstable or volatile persons in health care, social services, or criminal justice settings
  • Working alone or in small numbers
  • Working late at night or during early morning hours
  • Working in high-crime areas
  • Guarding valuable property or possessions
  • Working in community-based settings

OSHA's commitment
OSHA does not have a specific standard for workplace violence. However, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the OSH Act, or the Act), the extent of an employer's obligation to address workplace violence is governed by the General Duty Clause.

Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, or P.L. 91-596 (the "General Duty Clause") provides that: "Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." 29 U.S.C. 654(a)(1)

It is, therefore, OSHA's commitment to encourage employers to develop workplace violence prevention programs.

Prevention programs
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) response to the problem of workplace violence in certain industries has been the production of OSHA's guidelines and recommendations to those industries for implementing workplace violence prevention programs. In 1996, OSHA published Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Service Workers. In 1998, OSHA published Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments. In 2000, OSHA published Risk Factors and Protective Measures for Taxi and Livery Drivers. The guidelines and recommendations are based on OSHA's Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines and contain four basic elements:

Management commitment and employee involvement. May include simply clear goals for worker security in smaller sites or a written program for larger organizations.
Worksite analysis. Involves identifying high-risk situations through employee surveys, workplace walkthroughs, and reviews of injury/illness data.
Hazard prevention and control. Calls for designing engineering and administrative and work practice controls to prevent or limit violent incidents.
Training and education. Ensures that employees know about potential security hazards and ways to protect themselves and their co-workers.

Although not exhaustive, OSHA's guidelines and recommendations include policies, procedures, and corrective methods to help prevent and mitigate the effects of workplace violence. Engineering controls remove the hazard from the workplace or create a barrier between the worker and the hazard. Administrative and work practice controls affect the way jobs or tasks are performed.

Some recommended engineering and administrative controls
  • Physical barriers such as bullet-resistant enclosures or shields, pass-through windows, or deep service counters
  • Alarm systems, panic buttons, global positioning systems (GPS), and radios ("open mike switch")
  • Convex mirrors, elevated vantage points, clear visibility of service and cash register areas
  • Bright and effective lighting
  • Adequate staffing
  • Arrange furniture to prevent entrapment
  • Cash-handling controls, use of drop safes
  • Height markers on exit doors
  • Emergency procedures to use in case of robbery
  • Training in identifying hazardous situations and appropriate responses in emergencies
  • Video surveillance equipment, in-car surveillance cameras, and closed circuit TV
  • Establish liaison with local police
Post-incident response and evaluation
Post-incident response and evaluation are essential to an effective violence prevention program. All workplace violence programs should provide treatment for victimized employees and employees who may be traumatized by witnessing a workplace violence incident. Several types of assistance can be incorporated into the post-incident response including:
  • trauma-crisis counseling;
  • critical incident stress debriefing; or
  • employee assistance programs to assist victims.
  • The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries adopted requirements for crime prevention in late night retail establishments in 1990. As part of the state's accident prevention program requirements, late night retail establishments must implement crime prevention measures such as crime prevention training for employees, and implementation of some environmental design features and administrative controls (i.e., window and door displays configured to provide clear view inside, adequate outside lighting, drop safe or comparable device (6).
  • The New Jersey Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program adopted guidelines to assist public employees in health care facilities in adopting measures and procedures which will help protect the safety of employees from violent and aggressive behavior (7).
  • The California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CAL/OSHA) issued guidelines for health care and community service workers in 1993 designed to assist and support workers who may be exposed to violent behavior from patients, clients, or the public. Recommended measures to prevent assaults include engineering controls (i.e., alarm systems), administrative measures (adequate staffing), appropriate work practices, as well as training (8).
  • In 1995, CAL/OSHA issued revised guidelines for workplace security designed to provide information and guidance about workplace security issues to employers and workers in the state. CAL/OSHA recommends that employers establish, implement and maintain an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program to address the hazards known to be associated with workplace violence, and provides a model program to assist employers and workers (9-10).
  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2001). National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2000.
  2. Bureau of Justice Statistics (2001). National Crime Victimization Survey, 1993-1999.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2000). Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, 1999.
  4. Sygnatur, E. and Toscano, G. Work-Related Homicides: The Facts. Compensation and Working Conditions, Spring, 2000. (This can be found on the BLS website).
  5. NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin 57. Violence in the Workplace: Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies, 1996.
  6. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (1990). Late Night Retail Workers Crime Protection. WAC 296-24-102, 296-24-10203.
  7. New Jersey Department of Labor. Guidelines on Measures and Safeguards in Dealing with Violent or Aggressive Behavior in Public Sector Health Care Facilities. New Jersey Department of Labor, Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program.
  8. Simonowitz, Joyce A. (1993). Guidelines for Security and Safety of Health Care and Community Service Workers. California Department of Industrial Relations. Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Medical Unit.
  9. CAL/OSHA (1995). CAL/OSHA Guidelines for Workplace Security. California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Revised March 30, 1995.
  10. CAL/OSHA (1995). Model Injury and Illness Prevention Program for Workplace Security. California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health. March 30, 1995.
(Back to Top) Revision Date: 14-February-2002
NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.