What is workplace violence?
Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or
outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and
homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. However it manifests itself, workplace
violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide.
Who is vulnerable?
Some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year. Workplace
violence can strike anywhere, and no one is immune. Some workers, however, are at
increased risk. Among them are workers who exchange money with the public; deliver
passengers, goods, or services; or work alone or in small groups, during late night or early
morning hours, in high-crime areas, or in community settings and homes where they have
extensive contact with the public. This group includes health-care and social service workers
such as visiting nurses, psychiatric evaluators, and probation officers; community workers such
as gas and water utility employees, phone and cable TV installers, and letter carriers; retail
workers; and taxi drivers.
What can these employers do to help protect these employees?
The best protection employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward
workplace violence against or by their employees. The employer should establish a workplace
violence prevention program or incorporate the information into an existing accident prevention
program, employee handbook, or manual of standard operating procedures. It is critical to
ensure that all employees know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence
will be investigated and remedied promptly. In addition, employers can offer additional
protections such as the following:
Provide safety education for employees so they know what conduct is not acceptable,
what to do if they witness or are subjected to workplace violence, and how to protect
Secure the workplace. Where appropriate to the business, install video surveillance,
extra lighting, and alarm systems and minimize access by outsiders through
identification badges, electronic keys, and guards.
Provide drop safes to limit the amount of cash on hand. Keep a minimal amount of
cash in registers during evenings and late-night hours.
Equip field staff with cellular phones and hand-held alarms or noise devices, and
require them to prepare a daily work plan and keep a contact person informed of their
location throughout the day. Keep employer-provided vehicles properly maintained.
Instruct employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Introduce a “buddy
system” or provide an escort service or police assistance in potentially dangerous
situations or at night.
Develop policies and procedures covering visits by home health-care providers. Address
the conduct of home visits, the presence of others in the home during visits, and the
worker’s right to refuse to provide services in a clearly hazardous situation.
How can the employees protect themselves?
Nothing can guarantee that an employee will not become a victim of workplace violence.
These steps, however, can help reduce the odds:
Learn how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending
personal safety training programs.
Alert supervisors to any concerns about safety or security and report all incidents
immediately in writing.
Avoid traveling alone into unfamiliar locations or situations whenever possible.
Carry only minimal money and required identification into community settings.
What should employers do following an incident of workplace violence?
Encourage employees to report and log all incidents and threats of workplace violence.
Provide prompt medical evaluation and treatment after the incident.
Report violent incidents to the local police promptly.
Inform victims of their legal right to prosecute perpetrators.
Discuss the circumstances of the incident with staff members. Encourage employees to
share information about ways to avoid similar situations in the future.
Offer stress debriefing sessions and posttraumatic counseling services to help workers
recover from a violent incident.
Investigate all violent incidents and threats, monitor trends in violent incidents by type or
circumstance, and institute corrective actions.
Discuss changes in the program during regular employee meetings.
What protections does OSHA offer?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (OSH Act) General Duty Clause requires
employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all workers covered by the OSH
Act. Employers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate a recognized violence hazard
in the workplace can be cited. Failure to implement suggestions in this fact sheet, however,
is not in itself a violation of the General Duty Clause.
How can you get more information?
OSHA has various publications, standards, technical assistance, and compliance tools to help
you, and offers extensive assistance through its many safety and health programs: workplace
consultation, voluntary protection programs, grants, strategic partnerships, state plans,
training, and education. Guidance such as OSHA’s Safety and Health Management
Program Guidelines identify elements that are critical to the development of a successful safety
and health management system. This and other information are available on OSHA’s website at
For a free copy of OSHA publications, send a self-addressed mailing label to this address:
OSHA Publications Office,
P.O. Box 37535,
Washington, DC 20013-7535
or send a request to our fax at (202) 693-2498, or call us at (202) 693-1888.
To file a complaint by phone, report an emergency, or get OSHA advice, assistance,
or products, contact your nearest OSHA office under the “U.S. Department of Labor”
listing in your phone book, or call us toll-free at (800) 321-OSHA (6742). The teletypewriter
(TTY) number is (877) 889-5627.
To file a complaint online or obtain more information on OSHA federal and state
programs, visit OSHA’s website.
This is one in a series of informational fact sheets highlighting OSHA programs, policies, or standards. It does not impose
any new compliance requirements or carry the force of legal opinion. For compliance requirements of OSHA standards or
regulations, refer to Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This information will be made available to sensory-impaired
individuals upon request. Voice phone: (202) 693-1999. See also OSHA’s website at www.osha.gov.
U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration