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The Cal/OSHA Blueprint for Your Next Workplace Violence Safety Plan

By Rick Gehrke   |   

The threat of workplace shootings is something that can cause many sleepless nights for safety managers. Between 1966 and 2021, 30% of the mass shootings occurred in the workplace, such as an office building or warehouse, according to the Violence Project.

While these tragic incidents dominate headlines, the overall day-to-day occurrences of workplace violence take an ongoing toll on employee mental health and wellbeing.

A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (2023) estimates that 3.8 million workers became victims of nonfatal workplace violence in 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 50% increase in the rate of workplace violence in the U.S. since 2019.

Workplace violence comes in multiple forms, from the most gruesome active shooter incidents to fights in the parking lot or verbal attacks in the break room. Regardless of the situation, OSHA requires employers to maintain a safe workplace environment free from hazards that can cause death or severe harm, including workplace violence.

Yet, many companies continue to put off developing a workplace violence safety plan.

They might consider such an effort too controversial or unnecessary because an assault hasn’t happened in their workplace. However, even in the happiest workplaces, employees can suffer from stress, anxiety, and frustrations that can manifest into violent outbreaks. If you haven’t developed a workplace violence safety plan, consultants are available to help you get started.

Just as you wouldn’t wait for someone to lose a hand with a bandsaw, you don’t want to wait until an employee is injured or killed during an altercation or assault before identifying the potential risks and planning to control them.

Adding psychosocial health policies to your Occupational Safety and Health plan is imperative. Employees need to be trained to know how to control and change behaviors before things turn violent. And they need to know how to respond and report situations when they do.

Workplace violence comes in multiple forms, from the most gruesome active shooter incidents to fights in the parking lot or verbal attacks in the break room.

ISO 45003, Psychological Health and Safety at Work: Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Risks, provides guidance for managing psychosocial risk within an OH&S management system based on ISO 45001. The standard, published in 2021, focuses on workplace staff’s psychological health and safety using a formal management systems approach.

Another useful model is Mexico’s NOM-035-STPS-2018, Psychosocial Risk Factors at Work – Identification, Analysis, and Prevention. The point here is to understand the connection between mental health and workplace violence and take a more holistic approach to preventing trouble.

While OSHA does not provide specific workplace violence safety standards outside its General Duty Clause, other sources can help you develop a workplace violence prevention plan.

In 2017, California adopted its Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care standard 3342 (Cal/OSHA) and is now developing a Workplace Violence Prevention standard 3343 that will apply to all industries. Cal/OSHA will define and address workplace violence as a threat or use of physical force against an employee that is highly likely to result in injury, psychological trauma, or stress.

The draft Cal/OSHA standard calls for employers in California to adopt comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans. The draft standard, which has been in development for several years and is nearing release, will require employers to:

  • Implement a comprehensive written workplace violence prevention plan specific to each area and operation’s hazards.
  • Ensure written plans provide effective procedures to accept and respond to reports of workplace violence.
  • Review the plan’s efficacy and revise the plan as necessary.
  • Record workplace violence incidents.  
  • Provide effective employee training.
  • Maintain training records for at least one year.

If you want to consider using the Cal/OSHA as a blueprint for your workplace violence prevention plan, let’s review the standard’s key components.

Identify Workplace Violence
The Cal/OSHA standard defines workplace violence as any act of violence or threat of violence that occurs in a place of employment, including these four types. 

  • Type 1:  Workplace violence committed by a person who has no legitimate business at the worksite and violent acts by anyone who enters the workplace intending to commit a crime.
  • Type 2: Workplace violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or visitors.
  • Type 3: Workplace violence against an employee by a present or former employee, supervisor, or manager.
  • Type 4:  Workplace violence committed by someone who does not work there but has or is known to have had a personal relationship with an employee.

Develop a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan
The Cal/OSHA standard will require employers to establish, implement, and maintain an effective workplace violence prevention plan.

The written plan should always be available to employees and authorized representatives and incorporated into the written Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) or maintained as a separate document. The document should include the names or job titles of the persons responsible for implementing the plan.

It should include procedures to garner support from employees and authorized union representatives, including their role in identifying, evaluating, and correcting workplace violence hazards, designing and implementing training, and reporting and investigating workplace violence incidents.

The plan will be judged on its ability to show how employers will respond to reports of workplace violence and prohibit retaliation against any employee who reports a violent incident.

Employees must understand how to report a violent incident, how those concerns will be investigated, and how the investigation results will be reported. There must also be procedures for how to respond to workplace violence emergencies, including active shooter threats, and how they will be alerted.

Create and Maintain a Violent Incident Log
Under the Cal/OSHA standard, employers will be required to create and maintain a log of every workplace violence incident. This information should be solicited from the employee who experienced the workplace violence, omitting any information that might identify them. The log should include the date, time, and location of the incident, in addition to the type of violence that occurred.

include an overview of your plan, how to access it, and how employees can participate in developing and implementing it. Intertek Alchemy’s 150+ training course library includes the multi-lingual courses “Workplace Violence,” “Active Shooter Readiness,” “Appropriate Behavior in the Workplace,” and more to help manufacturers meet these requirements. 

Train Employees How to Identify and Respond to Workplace Violence
Even the best plans are ineffective if employees don’t know how to use them or if they fear they will be punished if they do. That’s why the Cal/OSHA standard will require employers to train employees to identify and respond to workplace violence incidents without reprisal. The training must be appropriate in content and vocabulary to your employees’ educational level, literacy, and language.

If you’ve experienced an incident in the past five years, the Cal/OSHA standard will require you to identify and address workplace violence hazards specific to employees’ jobs and cover corrective measures that have been implemented. Training should be updated whenever a new hazard is identified.

Maintain Accurate Records
Any records of workplace incidents, news, evaluations, and corrections must be maintained for at least one year. Training records require the amount of time, including training dates, contents or summaries of the training sessions, names and qualifications of persons conducting the training, and names and job titles of all persons attending the training sessions.

Violent incident logs and records should be kept for at least five years. These records should not contain medical information.  Records should be available to the agency division chief, employees, and their representatives upon request.

Remember that as you explore using California’s upcoming standard as a blueprint for your workplace violence prevention plan, this standard is still under review and subject to change. Please contact us if you have any questions or need help getting started.

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