What does the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) say about protecting your place of business from active shooter-type attacks?





Under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, employers are required to provide their 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.”


How does OSHA’s General Duty Clause Apply to Active Shooter Attacks?

The courts have interpreted 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.

The threat of an active shooter or other workplace violence could align with this interpretation, given certain criteria are met. Therefore, it is important for you to understand what you can do to prevent or mitigate an attack. It is also important for you to understand what steps you can take to avoid violating the General Duty Clause, should an attack occur.


How to leverage assessments to determine your businesses current risk of violating OSHA’s General Duty Clause

Vulnerability risk assessments and safety and security assessments are a great way to determine your organization’s current level of preparedness. These kinds of assessments evaluate whether your business could be considered “on notice of the risk of workplace violence.” These assessments consider any previous acts of workplace violence, identified threats, a history of intimidation in the workplace, or other indicators that the potential for violence or an active shooter in the workplace have, or could occur.

While assessments alone would not mitigate the risk of an OSHA violation, the knowledge gained from the assessment will provide you with a benchmark, facilitating the development and deployment of a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. This program should combine engineering controls, administrative controls, and proper training.

OSHA requires businesses to maintain emergency plans.

What you can do to mitigate the violation of OSHA’s General Duty Clause and protect your employees from an active-shooter attack or act of workplace violence

OSHA does not have specific requirements for workplace violence prevention. However, employers are required to maintain an emergency plan, and should consider the following guidelines to maintain a safer work environment, ensuring compliance with OSHA’s General Duty Clause:

  • Form a team dedicated to the safety and security of your business; responsible for developing, revising, and implementing safety and security procedures.
  • Develop a workplace violence prevention plan supported by policies consistent with day-to-day operations.
  • Provide instructor-led or eLearning safety education courses for employees, regarding the identification of concerning behavior and active threat response.
  • Establish procedures and policies to ensure employees and customers can safely enter and exit the building.
  • Minimize non-employee access, depending on the nature of your business.
  • Clearly identify and label high-risk areas of your building.
  • Implement an anonymous reporting system to log and track any incidents or threats of workplace violence.

Discover how SafePlans can help your organization comply with OSHA’s General Duty Clause


Read these examples to see if your business is currently in violation of OSHA workplace violence standards

While OSHA does not explicitly state standards for preventing workplace violence, they do offer some transparency as to how they interpret a violation of their policies for business safety and offer additional resources to guide businesses in the right direction.

Use the articles below as a reference for what issues to plan for, and how OSHA may interpret them.


Staff-to-resident ratio in a nursing home and workplace violence

  • A caretaker at a nursing home in Iola, Kansas inquired if there were any OSHA regulation outlining standards of care for Alzheimer’s patients. She writes that her employer requires only one person on staff to monitor patients at night; patients who may be violent or at risk of falling.
  • OSHA’s response indicates that while they do not currently have a specific standard in place, regarding the care of Alzheimer’s patients, they do cite publication #3148-11R, Guidelines for Preventing Violence for Health Care & Social Service Workers, which offers some examples of best practices for the industry as a whole. (August 14, 2006) – Read Full Article


Request for OSHA national policy banning guns from the workplace and OSHA enforcement policy regarding workplace violence

  • OSHA responded to a request from Morgan Melekos, regarding a letter he had sent to Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Labor at the time.
  • OSHA cites the general duty clause in Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), stating, “In a workplace where the risk of violence and serious personal injury are significant enough to be ‘recognized hazards,’ the general duty clause would require the employer to take feasible steps to minimize those risks.” Concluding that failure to do so could result in the finding of an OSH Act violation. (September 13, 2006) – Read Full Article


OSHA’s policy for scheduling occupational fatality investigations

  • Jordan Barab requested clarification of OSHA’s investigative policy for occupational fatalities associated with workplace violence; concerned that OSHA does not automatically inspect such fatalities.
  • While OSHA shared their concern about the prevalence of workplace violence, they determined that the inspection of scheduling should be left up to Area Directors of each area office to exercise best judgement as to the effective use of OSHA resources. This is due to the nature of the inspection process and the degree of planning involved.
  • Additionally, they suggest Mr. Barab refer to OSHA Instruction 2.113, Fatality Inspection Procedures, and go on to say that fatalities resulting from workplace violence and catastrophes must result from “work-related exposure,” concluding that many instances to not fall within this definition. (March 12, 1997) – Read Full Article


Guidelines for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs for Night Retail Establishments

  • Congressman Cass Ballenger wrote to OSHA citing several issues that he felt were not addressed in their drafted guidelines. OSHA clarifies that these guidelines serve the sole purpose of offering business owners useful techniques for reducing the risk of workplace violence, and that these guidelines are not policy, but suggestion. (October 23, 1996) – Read Full Article


OSHA policy regarding violent employee behavior

  • OSHA reiterates that while there are no specific Federal OSHA standards to address violent employee behavior in the workplace, employers could be cited dependent upon specific facts related to Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act. They state, “The recognizability and foreseeability of the hazard, and the feasibility of the means of abatement are some of the critical factors to be considered.” (December 10, 1992) – Read Full Article

Search all available letters of interpretation for workplace violence for more examples.

Determine your current level of compliance with OSHA’s active shooter and workplace violence prevention guidelines – request an assessment

SafePlans offers several types of security and vulnerability assessment services. Contact us today to discover more about our assessment capabilities or to schedule an assessment.

Additional resources for active shooter and workplace violence prevention

Explore these additional resources on active shooter and workplace violence prevention to discover what your business can do to better prepare:

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