Workplace violence is demanding more attention than ever before from HR professionals and business leaders alike, as acts of violence have become the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the US. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nearly two million American workers are affected annually by instances of workplace violence, prompting businesses to change their approach to employee safety. 

According to a Traliant survey of more than 1,000 workers at US companies, one in four employees have witnessed workplace violence in the last five years, and 12% were the target of violence themselves. Our research also found that employee fears about their own and their employer’s preparedness to respond to workplace violence effectively are taking a toll on workers’ mental well-being. Employers who want to retain talent should establish a workplace violence prevention program that gives employees the skills and information they need to feel safe at work.

Because states increasingly require employers to put workplace violence prevention measures in place, employers who take steps now will be ahead of the game going forward. Many states require some employers, like those in healthcare or education, to establish workplace violence prevention measures. California’s new workplace violence prevention law is the first of its kind, as it applies to virtually every California workplace. Effective July 1, 2024, California Senate Bill 553 requires employers to develop and implement a workplace violence prevention plan, provide annual employee training, and keep records of violent incidents. Cal/OSHA recently released a Model Workplace Violent Prevention Plan, which California employers can use as a template, and employers outside of California can review it as a possible clue of the types of policies or plans other states may require in the future.

Although many employers outside California are not yet required to have workplace violence-prevention plans, Traliant’s research found that 90% of employees believed their states should adopt a law like the one in California, and while a majority (70%) of surveyed workers had received training on workplace violence, nearly a third of respondents have not been trained—a significant gap employers need to close. 

Separate from state requirements, OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide “places of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm.” OSHA considers workplace violence a recognized hazard and can issue citations to employers who fail to address workplace violence prevention. Ultimately, implementing a workplace violence prevention plan and providing training is not just a “nice-to-have” but essential to shaping a safer, more secure workplace for employees and customers alike. 

How to create a compliant prevention plan

Employee preparedness and awareness is critical to navigating potentially dangerous situations, which is why employers must treat workplace violence prevention as a key priority in shaping their corporate culture.

When creating a violence prevention plan, it’s important to include managers, supervisors, and front-line personnel in the discussion to gain a broad view of workplace exposure and potential safety risks. A workplace violence hazard assessment should be performed to identify potential threats. In addition to addressing obvious physical safety protocols, such as locks, security badges, and cameras, a plan should address reporting mechanisms for employees to voice their concerns, with assurances that the organization won’t retaliate against any individual who comes forward. A plan should also detail how a company will respond to violent incidents, including the documentation of such events, even if they do not result in injury.

Implementing a written prevention plan lets employees and regulators know that an organization takes workplace violence seriously. Leadership should make it clear to everyone that acts of violence—including threats—will not be tolerated. 

What should be included in vital training

Annual employee training should cover elements of a company’s prevention plan and be interactive. Consider including the following topics in training:

  • What workplace violence is
  • Types of workplace violence
  • Red-flag behaviors
  • How and when to report workplace violence concerns
  • De-escalation techniques
  • How to respond to an active assailant
  • How the employer will alert employee to immediate workplace violence threats

Training should be accessible to all employees, including those with disabilities, and available in their native language. 

Employers should provide refresher training on a regular basis whenever a new workplace violence hazard is identified and when the employer’s workplace violence procedures change. 

Employer Takeaways

Prioritizing workplace violence prevention is the responsibility of all organizations, regardless of their location or industry. Being both well-prepared and well-informed to handle potential threats enables all organizations to safeguard their workforce, customers, reputation and business interests. 

California’s workplace violence prevention law is a significant step towards greater awareness, preparation, and commitment to keeping workforces safe, secure, and supported. Complying with its July 1 deadline enables employers to better protect personal safety in the event of an emergency and ease employees’ anxieties by creating a safer tomorrow.

Elissa Rossi Elissa Rossi is Vice President of Compliance Services at Traliant, a lawyer and former Assistant Attorney General of New York.
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