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.
September 13, 2006
Mr. Morgan Melekos
1837 Cahaba Forest Cove
Birmingham, AL 35242
Dear Mr. Melekos:
Thank you for your August 16, 2005 letter to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. Your letter was referred to the Directorate of Enforcement Programs of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") for an answer to your specific question. You asked the Secretary to establish a nationally binding policy that would ban guns from American workplaces. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of its current policy on this matter, and may not be applicable to any question(s) or situation not delineated within your original correspondence.
OSHA is the organization within the Department of Labor that addresses hazards in the workplace, including workplace violence. Although no OSHA standard applies directly to workplace homicides, the Agency was proactive in addressing this issue when, in 1996, it made available to employers and employees guidelines developed by the Long Island Coalition for Workplace Violence Awareness and Prevention available to employers and employees.1 Subsequently, OSHA developed additional general and workplace-specific guidelines on workplace violence that it provided, along with related material from other private organizations and public agencies (e.g., the American Nurses Association, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), to employers and employees on its website: www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence.
While generally deferring to other federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies to regulate workplace homicides, OSHA did develop an enforcement policy with regard to workplace violence as early as 1992 in a letter of interpretation that stated:
In a workplace where the risk of violence and serious personal injury are significant enough to be "recognized hazards," the general duty clause [specified by Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act)] 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.
This policy statement permits the Agency to reinforce its guidance and outreach efforts with appropriate enforcement action.
Please note that the number of workplace homicides involving guns declined nearly 50% over the last decade according to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics ("BLS"), from a high of about 17 per week in 1993 to 8 per week in 2004.2 Additionally, a review of OSHA' occupational-fatality database shows that the majority of these deaths involve private/public safety officers and other employees shot by non-employees entering a workplace to engage in criminal activity (e.g., armed robbery, burglary).
In conclusion, OSHA was one of the first federal agencies to issue guidance on workplace violence to employers and employees, and to supplement this guidance with an appropriate enforcement policy. Additionally, the Agency believes that the guidance documents and other outreach efforts provided by it and other private organizations and public agencies are responsible in large part for the significant reduction in gun-related homicides in the workplace cited in the recent BLS report mentioned earlier. OSHA' continuing involvement in this matter demonstrates the concern that it has regarding gun-related homicides in the workplace.
Thank you for your letter, and for your interest in occupational safety and health.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs