The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) has ruled that workplace violence is covered by the general duty cause of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, thus making employers liable for acts of violence affecting their employees while carrying out their work duties, whether onsite or off.

workplace-violence-falls-under-general-duty-clauseThat clause states that employers must “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

The review-decision stems from the 2012 stabbing death of an Integra employee who was calling on a patient at his home per instructions from Integra. The patient, with a history of mental illness and violence, attacked the employee with a knife nine times and left her for dead on his front lawn. She was found by a motorist passing by and taken to the hospital, where she died.

When the Department of Labor (DOL) attempted to fine Integra for the incident, Integra challenged the penalty on grounds that the incident was not predictable. Specifically, the health care company argued that “the violent conduct of a third party is an inherently unpredictable act of a different nature than the hazards typically regulated under the general duty clause.”

The commissioners disagreed: “The record establishes that Integra could have taken precautions preventing injury by hiring, training, performing, and assigning work appropriately, but chose not to in the interest of saving money and time.”  The Maryland-headquartered company was penalized $10,500 by the commission and ordered to put in place an effective workplace violence prevention program.

An administrative law judge had twice previously upheld the DOL’s citation.The case being reviewed was Secretary of Labor v. Integra Health Management, Inc. The commission issues about 10 rulings a year.