What is Workplace Violence?
According to the US Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence , harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. Workplace violence ranges from the threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicides (OSHA, 2016). According to OSHA, some 2 millions workers complaint each year of being victims of workplace violence. Until recently, most of us were familiar with the occasional disgruntled employee or client that created a scene and occasionally made threats or acted with some level of violence. However, since the Oklahoma disgruntled postal worker shooting from the 1980’s and numerous violent attacks and active shooter incidents as the most recent shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016; the risks associated with workplace violence have become a matter of serious concern.
The consequences of workplace violence to the victims and the organization cannot be overstated. The consequences of these acts can range from emotional scars and financial losses to the victims, and their coworkers and to rescuers and the family members of those affected. Businesses and organizations can also be greatly affected. Decrease productivity from those affected, the loss of client accounts and damaged to the organizations reputation can devastate the organization and its ability to recover, potentially resulting in the loss of jobs or the eventual closure of the organization.
How can the risks of workplace violence be reduced?
To safeguard the safety of employees, clients and visitors; organizations need to develop an effective workplace violence awareness, prevention and response program that includes periodic employee training sessions and establishes effective internal and external communication, and coordination with the security department and local emergency management organizations.
If employees and the employer can identify risk factors, these risks can be addressed in a number of ways,significantly reducing the consequences of an event, or reducing the likelihood of occurrence of such an event. However, for this to occur, employers need to address these risks adequately and develop policies to guide employees. Employers need to training their employees and create policies that help prevent workplace violence and to help reduce the effects of these events when they occur. Employees need to know how to identify what activities or behaviors to look for and how to address them. However, creating policies and providing a class or two is not enough. Research has shown that despite the existence of organizational policies, some employees will either forget the established policies or ignore them due to doubt or fear, resulting in delayed communication with security and, or emergency services personnel. To prevent this, employers nee d to take the risks of workplace safety seriously and develop periodic training programs that create a safe work culture.
Considerations in Preventing and Mitigating the Effects of Workplace Violence
- Employers need to conduct a thorough assessment of their facility to identify address risks such as dark areas in and around the facility that may need additional lighting; or blind spots where cameras and, or employees cannot monitor and could serve as a hiding spot for perpetrators. Additionally, employers need to consider what areas of the facility or building should be restricted for employees only, or for select employees only, and locked to prevent unauthorized access. Employees would be familiar with the facility and all exit points. Employees should also be familiar with other company employees to reduce the likelihood of an intruder walking freely and unescorted through the facility.
Awareness starts with knowledge and observation. Employees need to know what to look for when gauging peoples behavior. They must observe people’s body language, look for facial expressions, listen to the tone of voice and sometimes the absence of these can also be a pre-incident indicator. Knowing what to look for and how to respond will go a long way in prevention and response. For example, if an employee identifies a person getting upset, this employee can look for ways to reduce the anxiety or stress experienced buy the person. If a client is getting upset with one employee or supervisors, another employee can take over and address the person. Often times, just listening to the person and reassuring them that their concerns are important is enough to calm persons down. However, in some cases, only security and or law enforcement are capable of controlling the situation. Employees need to know when to call for assistance and who to call.
- Another thing to consider is the use of CCTV systems. However, for the CCTV system to work as a prevention strategy, someone needs to monitor the CCTV system. Sadly, many organizations invest thousands of dollars in professional level CCTV equipment only to use it as a “go to source” after an incident has already occurred, to figure out what happened. If you are truly interested in preventing incidents, you need a person monitoring the CCTV system and follow a set of practical and well researched policy recommendations to help increase the effectiveness of your system and the performance of the personnel monitoring the CCTV system. Research has shown that the ability of an average person to remain focus on a single task such as observing for variations in behavior such as monitoring a CCTV system or the monitor of an X-Ray machine, decreases substantially over just a few minutes. For the average person, the ability to observe, monitor or pay attention to something without loosing interest varies from 15 minutes on the average person to no more than 30 minutes in the best case scenario. Considering this, in order to increase the performance of a CCTV system, policies should address how to increase employee performance and monitoring practices.
Policies and Practices Consideration
- Things to consider when establishing organizational policies and practices should include the creation of employee badges and the use of electronic doors and badge color coding to identify which employees have access to what areas and which employees are assigned to what areas or departments; further assisting in the identification of unauthorized individuals in restricted areas. Employees also need to know how to address situations where a potential intruder is identified. For example, in some situations challenging potential intruders would be appropriate while in others, observing them and reporting their findings to the security department or law enforcement would be more appropriate. While it may seem obvious to some, employers should not ignore the need to create policies that require managers, supervisors and employees to treat everyone; including employees, visitors and clients with respect and dignity. The need to create a safe and respectful work environment is not only imperative to increase employee performance and reduce absenteeism and a number of other issues that affect organizations; but, it is of extreme importance to reduce workplace violence incidents. As difficult as this may seem to some, security and law enforcement personnel are often called to respond to a workplace violence situations that as originally caused by employees and supervisors mistreating and at times yelling at clients, visitors or other employees. While this is not the norm, I have personally observe this too often in over 20 years of combined experience in the law enforcement and security industry.
With the increase in workplace violence situations with the intent to kill as many people as possible, employers need to consider establishing policies and training for employees to respond to workplace violence during life threatening situations. Lets face it, no one wants to deal with lawsuits as a result of an employee putting their hands on a client or visitor; however, the reality is that the risks associated with the increase of active shooter incidents demands that employers are better prepare to handle these situations. The need for self defense training and the presence of armed, trained and capable security personnel is increasing exponentially.
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Workplace Violence, Occupational Health & Safety Administration
Estes, S., Hadjimichael, M., et al, (2010). Human Performance and Fatigue Research for Controllers. The MITRE Corporation.