Workplace Violence

Workplace violence has emerged as an important safety and health issue in today's workplace. It's most extreme form, homicide, is the second leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States. Nearly 1,000 workers are murdered, and 1.5 million are assaulted in the workplace each year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there were 709 workplace homicides in 1998, accounting for 12% of the total 6,026 fatal work injuries in the United States.  Environmental conditions associated with workplace assaults have been identified and control strategies implemented in a number of work settings.  OSHA has developed guidelines and recommendations to reduce worker exposures to this hazard but is not initiating rule making at this time.

Hazard Description

Non-fatal assaults

According to the Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), assaults and threats of violence against Americans at work number almost 2 million a year.

The most common type of workplace violent crime was simple assault with an average of 1.5 million a year. There were 396,000 aggravated assaults, 51,000 rapes and sexual assaults, 84,000 robberies, and 1,000 homicides.

Again, according to the NCVS, retail sales workers were the most numerous victims, with 330,000 being attacked each year. They were followed by police, with an average of 234,200 officers victimized. The risk rate for various occupations was as follows: (per 1,000)

Police officers 306
Private security guards 218
Taxi drivers 184
Prison guards 117
Bartenders 91
Mental health professionals 80
Gas station attendants 79
Convenience, liquor store clerks 68
Mental health custodial workers 63
Junior high/middle school teachers 57
Bus drivers 45
Special education teachers 41
High school teachers 29
Elementary school teachers 16
College teachers 3


Workplace homicides fell to their lowest level in the past six years in 1997, but continued as the second leading cause of job-related deaths. Robbery continued to be the primary motive of job-related homicide, accounting for 85% of the deaths. Disputes among coworkers and with customers and clients accounted for about one-tenth of the total.

Sales workers experienced the highest number of workplace homicides-an average of 327 each year from 1993 to 1996. Annually, 74 taxi drivers and chauffeurs were murdered while working or on duty. About 70 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty each year.  Although it does not have the highest number of homicides, the taxicab industry has the highest risk at 41.4 per 100,000 persons. Job-related homicides in retail trade account for almost half of all workplace homicides.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase a worker's risk for workplace assault, as identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), are:

Current Status

OSHA does not have a specific standard for workplace violence. However, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 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)

Therefore, OSHA encourages employers to develop workplace violence prevention programs.

Prevention Programs

OSHA’s response to the problem of workplace violence in certain industries has been the production of 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. 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

Alarm systems, panic buttons

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:

State Programs

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.

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 that will help protect the safety of employees from violent and aggressive behavior.

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 provide a model program to assist employers and workers.