Combating Unpredictable Workplace Violence Under OSHA’s General Duty Clause

On August 26, 2015, a Virginia news reporter, Alison Parker, and a photojournalist, Adam Ward, were tragically shot down by a former colleague while conducting a live television broadcast in Moneta, Virginia. The gunman was later confirmed to be a former reporter at the victims’ news station, who was fired for disruptive conduct in 2013. Such acts of workplace violence are senseless and unpredictable, but there are ways to mitigate dangers still.

According to OSHA statistics, every year nearly two million Americans report being victims of workplace violence. Among those two million, 600 end tragically in a fatality. While there are no specific OSHA standards for such workplace violence, OSHA seeks to combat workplace violence under its General Duty Clause.

Under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970, employers are required to provide employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” Courts interpret OSHA’s General Duty Clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard.

An employer that experiences acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators showing that the potential for violence in the workplace exists, would be on notice of the risk of workplace violence and should implement a workplace prevention program with training. The most recognized way of dispelling such unpredictable workplace violence is through preparation and preemption. While this problem is typically not preventable, because it arises from unpredictable individual actions, one way to allay employees’ concerns is to roll out a workplace committee dedicated to workplace kindness.

In this regard, for ease of reference, donations may be made to the Alison B. Parker ’12 Memorial Fund in the James Madison University School of Media Arts & Design and to the New Scholarship in Memory of Salem High School Alumnus Adam Ward.

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