Workplace Violence Should Not Be an Occupational Hazard

Workplace violence is the second-leading cause of workplace deaths, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Workplace violence could include verbal outbursts due to stress, a co-worker disagreement, a disgruntled customer, or be part of a criminal act. In its most extreme and dangerous form, workplace violence results in injury or homicide. No matter where an incident lies on the spectrum, workplace violence is a reality that employers need to consider.

A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and NIOSH found that each week in the United States, there are nearly 20 homicides and 18,000 assaults in the workplace. Preparation and planning by employers may help minimize the number of employees involved in a violent workplace incident.

Employers should prepare by considering scenarios for a violent situation. It’s important to remember that violence in the workplace may not be limited to employees. Workplace violence may include domestic disputes that continue in the workplace, violence between customers and violence arising from criminal acts.

The most important tool that employees have in dealing with workplace violence is remembering that avoidance and de-escalation of a potentially violent situation will almost never result in an injury. Trying to take control or assert oneself in a violent situation will most likely result in an injury. Employees in higher risk jobs should know how to recognize a potentially violent situation before it gets out of hand and to respond early while it is still controllable.

Workplace Risk Factors

NIOSH identified a number of workplace situations that increase the possibility of a violent occurrence on the job. Employers and employees involved in these activities should increase their awareness and education of workplace violence prevention.

Employees are more at risk for a violent altercation if their work involves:

  • Contact with the public
  • An exchange of money
  • The delivery of passengers, goods or services
  • Working with unstable or volatile persons, such as in hospitals or law enforcement
  • Working alone or in small numbers
  • Working late at night or during early morning hours
  • Working in high-crime areas
  • Working with valuable property or possessions

Potential Warning Signs

Identifying high-risk factors of the job is only part of the preparation and awareness plan for employers. Employers and employees should also be aware of the warning signs of a potentially violent individual and report them to the appropriate personnel. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime has identified several common characteristics that were prevalent in individuals initiating violent workplace incidents.

If an employee or customer is exhibiting any of these patterns or behaviors, immediate actions should be taken and the appropriate individuals notified.

These warning signs include:

  • Direct or veiled threats of harm, whether directed at an individual or the workplace
  • Intimidating, belligerent, harassing, bullying or other inappropriate and aggressive behavior
  • Numerous conflicts with supervisors and other employees
  • Bringing a weapon to the workplace
  • Statements showing fascination with incidents of workplace violence or statements indicating approval of the use of violence to resolve a problem
  • Statements indicating desperation to the point of contemplating suicide or inflicting other bodily harm to one’s self
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Extreme changes in behaviors

Employee Training on Violence in the Workplace

A workplace violence prevention plan should identify characteristics of potentially violent situations, the risk factors associated with certain activities and early warning signs. It should also outline what employees are to do in the event of the threat or initiation of violence. Just as employers train workers on equipment safety, employees should be routinely educated about the company’s policies and procedures related to avoiding violence in the workplace.

 Employee training for workplace violence prevention and preparation should:

  • Provide a clear explanation of the company’s policy on workplace violence
  • Encourage and provide a policy for employees to easily report incidents or warning signs of aggressive behavior
  • Educate employees on conflict resolution, including ways to prevent or diffuse volatile situations or aggressive behavior
  • Educate employees on how to difuse hostile and aggressive people, including the warning signs listed above
  • Provide tips and resources for anger management
  • Outline security procedures at the workplace, including an evacuation plan and safeguards that are currently in place
  • Provide tips on stress management, which can trigger a violent outburst

In the event of a violent incident in the workplace, even if it is considered a minor altercation, employers should also be prepared to provide victim support with onsite counseling or by providing resources through area counseling services.

Workplace safety is key to a productive and happy workforce, and in some instances, it can save lives.

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