OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.
December 10, 1992
Mr. John R. Schuller
845 Connecticut Avenue
McDonald, Ohio 44437
Dear Mr. Schuller:
This is in response to your letter of October 12, inquiring whether there are Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards which address violent employee behavior in the workplace. We apologize for the delay in this response.
Although currently there are no specific Federal OSHA standards to address these problems, the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), in Section 5(a)(1), 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." In a workplace where the risk of violence and serious personal injury are significant enough to be "recognized hazards," the general duty clause would require the employer to take feasible steps to minimize those risks. Failure of an employer to implement feasible means of abatement of these hazards could result in the finding of an OSH Act violation.
On the other hand, 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.
This overall issue of violence in the workplace is under review. At this time, we feel that the situation you described is best handled through your company's employee relations activities.
We hope this information is responsive to your concerns.
Roger A. Clark, Director
[Directorate of Enforcement Programs]