Today we’re going to talk about a sensitive subject: workplace violence. It can be uncomfortable and often difficult to discuss, but this is a topic that you must understand and be willing to address. It’s a disturbing reality, but violence in the workplace is a very real threat. Nearly 2 million American workers report being the victims of workplace violence every year. While nothing can guarantee that an employee won’t become a victim, there are steps that employers can take to reduce the likelihood of workplace violence.
Let’s briefly define workplace violence, which is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at or outside the workplace. It can include threats and verbal abuse, physical assaults or even homicide, which is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. Workplace violence can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors alike.
Research has identified a number of factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites. Exchanging money with the public, working with volatile, unstable people and working in isolated areas all contribute to the potential for violence. So does providing services and care, and working where alcohol is served. Time of day, and location, such as late night or in a high-crime area, are also risk factors.Therefore, certain occupations and industries are inherently at higher risk for workplace violence.
As an employer, you have a legal duty under federal and state occupational safety and health laws to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that you or your industry recognizes as hazardous or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, provided there is a feasible method to eliminate or reduce the hazard.
As it relates to violence, any employer that has experienced 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 considered “on notice” of the risk of violence. Such an employer should implement a workplace violence prevention program to reduce the likelihood of violence occurring. But where to begin?
First, establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by your employees. This is one of the best precautions you can take.
Next, 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.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also suggests some concrete steps for protecting employees.
- Provide safety education so that workers know what conduct is not acceptable, what to do if they witness or are subjected to workplace violence, and how to protect themselves.
- 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. And be sure to keep your company vehicles properly maintained.
- Tell employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Instead, introduce a "buddy system" or provide a guard or police assistance in potentially unsafe situations or at night.
To learn more about workplace violence prevention, including risk factors, prevention programs, and training resources, please review OSHA's workplace violence materials which are available online. You’ll also find specialized guidance for high-risk professions.
Remember that workplace violence is a problem that affects us all... so please make the commitment and take the necessary steps to prevent your workplace from becoming a sad statistic. To learn more about preparing for workplace emergencies or for more information on HR and benefits management, visit us online at HR360.com.