Putting the Cuffs on Workplace Violence

An important new guideline from ASIS International identifies OSH professionals as key stakeholders.

BY the time you read this, the final ASIS International Workplace Violence Prevention and Response Guideline should be printed and available free online. Rebecca A. Speer, co-chair of the guideline's committee and founder of San Francisco law firm Speer Associates, said this process-oriented document should give employers vital implementation guidance.

It also will empower supervisors to ask for help and obtain it, said Speer. Problematic or threatening behaviors just don't trickle up the ranks, she said, because managements typically deny or minimize the problem and the threat level. "The biggest piece is education," she said. "We don't want people to be fear-driven, but to recognize that behaviors can be a threat to safety. . . . You really need to nip the threat in the bud."

The standard itself identifies OSH professionals as key stakeholders--along with security personnel, HR, legal, managers, and others--for addressing the workplace violence problem. It also identifies the Occupational Safety and Health Act, OSHA's founding law, as the crux of employers' obligation to protect workers from violence.

This was a whirlwind project, with the committee releasing a 61-page draft June 9 after work began in earnest in late March. Only 25 to 30 "very complimentary" comments had arrived by the eve of the comment deadline. "I was pleased about that, which shows that we did it right, right out of the chute," Speer said. Kathy Woods, the ASIS guidelines and standards manager, said some commenters wanted more text about mediation. Good suggestions were made about Employee Assistance Programs, Woods said.

It's easy to say workplace violence is "somebody else's problem." This new guideline proves otherwise, saying non-fatal violence at work affects an estimated 1.7 million employees annually, with the highest rates of violence occurring in law enforcement, retail sales, and medical settings. Citing a NIOSH estimate, it says the average cost of a workplace homicide is $800,000, and the total cost of workplace homicides from 1991 to 2001 was nearly $6.5 billion.

The draft was posted at www.asisonline.org/guidelines/guidelines.htm. Other ASIS guidelines in progress at this writing include a pre-employment background screening guideline and a physical security measures guideline.

This editor's note appeared in the October 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the October 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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