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Preventing Workplace Violence in the Age of #MeToo

By Doug Parker, Executive Director

Earlier this month, Worksafe attorneys attended the American Bar Association’s annual meeting of occupational safety and health practitioners. One of the more interesting panels was titled “Sexual Harassment as a Health and Safety Issue.” Worksafe’s Jora Trang participated, along with a management attorney, and an attorney from the Department of Labor. 

When the management attorney spoke, I was expecting her to express opposition to the notion that sexual harassment could be a health and safety issue. Instead, she recounted to an audience of mostly management attorneys a “me too” experience. She described how a colleague’s pattern of aggressive, harassing behavior escalated into an assault in a locked office. Thankfully, she was able to escape the situation without physical injury. 

Violence is the leading cause of workplace death among female workers in California, and Cal/OSHAis currently drafting a workplace violence prevention standard. We have asked Cal/OSHA to include in the standard the requirement to keep a written log of violence and threats of violence, something the Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups oppose. Unfortunately, Cal/OSHA’s draft proposal only requires employers to maintain written records of investigations of violence resulting in an injury requiring more than first aid to treat. The panelist’s experience of being held against the wall in a locked office would not trigger any recordkeeping requirement under this proposal, nor would the aggressive behavior that forewarned of the assault.

I’m not suggesting that Cal/OSHA should police sexual harassment. It does not have the resources or the skill set. But if the workplace violence prevention standard is going to do what the name says – prevent violence – it has to promote intervention before violence occurs. A recordkeeping requirement would help verify that employers have taken appropriate measures to identify and address threats before they escalate into violence.