VIOLENCE IN THE WORKPLACE

Author
J.R. Moody

Violence in the workplace is one of those circumstances in which no one expects to ever find themselves. You know it happens. You read about it in the news but never think it could happen where you work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there were 14,770 workplace homicides between 1992 and 2012. In 2013, there were 397 homicide victims; and, those fatalities accounted for 9 percent of all workplace deaths that year. While roadway incidents, falls from heights, and struck-by injuries are more common where workplace fatalities are concerned, 9 percent is far too many and should be enough to get you thinking about safety in your own workplace.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicides, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths.” With numerous ways to encounter violence in and around the workplace, only the right tools and training can help minimize risk.

Never assume workplace violence is unlikely, simply based on the nature of your work environment. Incidents occur in occupations across all industries. To assess your risk, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggests a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you work alone or with very few people?
  • Are you providing health care or health services?
  • Do you have coworkers who seem irritable or unstable?
  • Is money exchanged?
  • Do you work late-night or overnight?
  • Is your workplace located in a high crime area?
  • Does your workplace serve alcohol?

These conditions can increase the risk of workplace violence, but every workplace can provide a foundation for situational violence. Employees are human with unpredictable behaviors often brought on by unfavorable life circumstances. A coworker could be having problems at home, for example – divorce, loss of a family member, financial issues, etc. Unless you know what to look for, you may be unaware of how close they are to a violent outburst.

Workplace violence isn’t always related directly to a given workplace. Nearly 80 percent of workplace homicides come from outside of the business. Robberies, upset customers, domestic disputes that follow a coworker to the workplace, and violent events occurring in the vicinity are common.

Beyond the obvious impacts workplace violence has on its victims, there are business implications as well. Violent incidents cost businesses billions of dollars each year in necessary security increases, workers’ compensation, employee loss and downtime, damaged property, public relations, and psychological impairment.

So what can be done to reduce risk?

Not all workplace violence incidents can be predicted. Robberies, for example, can strike even in the safest, most affluent of neighborhoods. The best course of action is to develop a written workplace violence program which thoroughly details your business’ policies and procedures on the matter. For unpredictable incidents, you should implement a response and evacuation system and hold regular drills. These programs should include instructions for incidents that occur in and out of the work site (i.e. lockdowns indoors, or evacuations to an offsite location). Don’t forget to include zero-tolerance policies on workplace violence so employees know exactly what’s expected of them and the consequences in the event the policy(s) are not followed.

Some signs to watch for are irritability and poor response to criticism. Is your coworker experiencing problems at home? Consider establishing a reporting process for all employees and contractors to understand and follow. The process should include specific people designated as those to contact in the instance that a coworker in engaged in suspicious or dangerous behavior.

Examine the resources available from a management perspective. Consider offering counseling services so stressed or overworked employees can safely and confidently discuss their misconduct and find a suitable solution. Also, fostering a positive, pleasant work environment can go a long way as a preventative measure.

Workplace violence is best addressed before it happens through knowledge and proactive measures. Safety Services Company can help. Contact us today for information on how we can help you create a violence-free workplace.

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