How to Prevent Violence in the Workplace

October 11, 2021
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Community Action Security

Crafting an Effective Workplace Violence Prevention Policy

Violence in the workplace isn’t something we like to think about. It’s frightening and, unfortunately, more common than we care to admit, with millions of Americans falling victim to workplace violence every year. This is why it’s so important for every organization to develop a strong workplace violence prevention policy. By providing workplace violence training, businesses can reduce potential threats, minimize the chances of a serious incident occurring, and be prepared to address workplace violence should it arise.

Preparation is key. To prevent violence in the workplace, organizations need to have a robust system in place to prepare staff should an incident occur. A good workplace violence prevention policy identifies potential threats early and eliminates them quickly. An incredibly important aspect of an effective prevention policy is providing training and instructions for employees on the best practices for reporting workplace violence.

Before crafting a workplace violence prevention policy, developing training scenarios, or putting any kind of work place violence prevention plan into action, it’s important to have a solid understanding of what constitutes violence in the workplace, who is most at risk, and what preemptive steps can be taken to eliminate danger.

What is Workplace Violence?

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), workplace violence is the third-leading cause of fatal injuries for American workers, with over 2 million cases of workplace violence reported annually.

Violence in the workplace usually affects employees first and foremost, but can also involve customers, clients, and company visitors. The workplace violence definition covers any kind of physical, verbal, or emotional assaults towards employees while at work. Some examples include:

  • Physical attacks
  • Harassment
  • Intimidation
  • Bullying
  • Verbal abuse
  • Manipulative behavior
  • Domestic violence threats from external individuals

Any acts of aggression that result in damage, vandalism, or the destruction of company property can also be classified as workplace violence. Some of the more serious workplace violence hazards include:

  • Muggings
  • Shootings
  • Bomb threats
  • Arson threats
  • Sabotage
  • Theft

Some of these incidences may feel easier to control and avoid than others. Naturally, we can’t control what someone will do in any situation, but we can make sure that we know what a threat looks like and that we’re prepared if that threat is carried out. That’s why developing a workplace violence prevention policy is integral to reducing risks, minimizing threats, and ensuring a safe working environment.

Why are Prevention Policies Important?

Employers have an ethical responsibility to ensure that people feel safe and secure at work. Creating an environment that focuses on awareness and open communication is vital when it comes to work place violence prevention.

Establishing a company-wide workplace violence response plan helps prepare workers while also providing peace of mind.  When employees feel empowered and cared for, stress levels stemming from fears or anxieties decrease. This leads to improved mental health, increased workflow productivity, and happier employees. These factors, in turn, reduce the chances of sticky situations in the workplace escalating to violence.

While you would implement a prevention policy simply because you want to keep your workers happy and safe, employers are legally obligated to comply with minimum standards:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) includes a clause stating employers must keep workplaces free from recognized hazards that could cause significant injury or death.
  • Common-law clauses stipulate that employers have a duty to keep individuals safe from injury, including criminal and violent acts. Liability claims often relate to whether employer action or inaction was a contributing factor to a violent act.

Who Is At Risk of Workplace Violence?

Anyone can become a victim of workplace violence. However, some are more likely to end up in a violent situation than others. By their very nature, some job types come with a higher risk, whether it be logistical circumstances at the worksite or extraneous variables.

Occupational Hazards

Every job comes with its own occupational hazards. However, some occupations face higher risks for violence in the workplace simply due to the job specifications and responsibilities. Examples of these include:

  • Exchanging money directly with the public (retail and bank workers)
  • Transporting goods or livestock (delivery drivers and animal transportation workers)
  • Carrying passengers (bus drivers and taxi services)
  • Guarding property or possessions (security guards and night watchmen)
  • Handling prescription drugs (pharmacists and veterinarians)
  • Inspection or enforcement duties (police officers and highway patrol)
  • Serving alcohol (bar and restaurant staff)
  • Dealing with unstable or volatile people (doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers)
  • Providing advice or education (teachers, counselors, and psychiatrists)

Employment Logistics

Other important factors for consideration include the location of the businesses and the times of day a worker is on duty. The chances of experiencing violence increase when employees work:

  • Alone or in small numbers
  • Late night or early morning hours
  • In high-crime areas
  • In isolated areas
  • In community settings
  • Anywhere with uncontrolled public access
  • On mobile workplace assignments

Extraneous Variables

It has also been proven that incidents of violence against employees increase during:

  • Holiday periods
  • Tax return season
  • Times of personal stress (paydays, final demand dates for overdue bill payments, etc.)

Developing a Workplace Violence Prevention Policy

There are no hard and fast rules for developing a workplace violence prevention policy. Risks will vary from business to business depending on size and what type of products or services they provide.

Larger companies often have an easier time planning and implementing strategies because they have larger security teams at their disposal. For small to medium-sized enterprises, however, the task can often feel more overwhelming.

The good news is that businesses of all types and sizes can increase safety and prevent workplace violence by following the proper steps.

1. Conduct a Workplace Analysis

Many factors can affect the chances of violence happening at work and organizations should consider as many variables as possible to prevent violence in the workplace. Considerations include, but are not limited to:

  • Business location
  • Hours of operation
  • The layout of the workplace
  • Company culture
  • Management styles
  • Available resources
  • Previous instances of violence in the workplace
  • How previous occurrences were handled

There are four categories of workplace violence that should be factored into any work place violence prevention plan:

  • Criminal Intent – The perpetrator has no known connection or legitimate business dealings with the company. In this case, the motive is usually theft or vandalism.
  • Client or Customer – The perpetrator has formerly received goods or services from the company or one of its employees and may even be a current client.
  • Colleague – In-house differences and disagreements can lead to violent outbursts between coworkers or between lower-level staff and supervisors or managers.
  • Personal Relationships – The perpetrator does not work for the company but is associated through a past or present relationship with an employee.

Different categories of violence and the intentions of the perpetrator need to be considered so that measures can be taken to account for all possibilities.

2. Accounting for Multiple Business Locations

If your business has multiple offices or site locations, creating a plan for each may seem complicated. Although, once you have thoroughly analyzed all the variables and built out a workplace violence response plan template for one location, it should be fairly straightforward to replicate the process for alternate sites.

Depending on the size and scope of your business operations, you may choose to keep a separate workplace violence response plan for each individual site or alternatively combine them into one overall company-wide policy.

3. Hazard Prevention and Control

If your analysis identifies hazards that can be avoided, document and implement the necessary changes to improve safety levels. Examples from OSHA recommendations include:

  • Using ‘buddy systems’ to increase personal safety
  • Creating barriers between workers and risk factors by installing additional doors and locks, improving lighting, making emergency exits more accessible, fitting metal detectors and panic buttons, etc.
  • Updating administration procedures for visitor sign-in processes
  • Implementing mandatory staff check-ins after off-site or home visits, etc.
  • Keeping on-site cash to a minimum during early morning and late-night hours and utilize drop safes for excess cash
  • Ensuring all remote and field staff have mobile devices and personal alarms

4. Actively Create a Supportive Environment

Establishing a workplace violence prevention policy demonstrates your commitment to the safety of your employees and your dedication to providing a non-violent workplace.

Your policy should include:

  • A clear statement of zero tolerance towards workplace violence
  • Concrete definitions of harassment, bullying, and violence
  • Clear examples of unacceptable behavior
  • Preventative measures that are already in place
  • Processes for reporting workplace violence
  • Details of what support is available for employees
  • Details of disciplinary actions that will be taken against perpetrators of workplace violence
  • Details of company training on violence and violence prevention

This helps nurture a culture of trust throughout the company and makes staff feel more comfortable discussing workplace violence.

5. Offer Comprehensive Staff Training

No employee likes to imagine worst-case scenarios, and workplace violence training or practice drills may not be the most cheerful event on the company calendar. However, these training sessions are absolutely vital to have a proper workplace violence response plan. Workplace violence training can protect your staff, reduce workplace injuries, and save lives.

Training should include all members of staff at every level of the organization. This demonstrates a multilateral approach and signifies the involvement and dedication of senior management to employee safety. Additionally, it unites departments across the company in a common goal.

Workplace violence scenarios for training should include educating employees to recognize early warning signals so that potential violent incidents can be identified and avoided. An efficient employee reporting system is one of the most effective defenses against violence in the workplace. Staff needs to be able to recognize and report on the following without fear of reprisal, knowing their feedback is confidential and that appropriate action will be taken:

  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Depression, anxiety, and paranoia
  • Sudden drops in job performance
  • Behavioral and mood changes
  • Violation of company policies

Other important training themes that help prevent violence in the workplace include workshops or training scenarios that cover:

  • An overview of the full workplace violence response plan
  • Identifying hazards and control measures
  • Brainstorming risks across all sectors of the business
  • Ways to prevent or deescalate a violent situation
  • The location of alarms, panic buttons, etc.

Dealing with Immediate Workplace Threats

The worst thing a business can do is ignore a threat. Staff should be immediately informed and encouraged to report any suspicious behavior. When a threat is imminent, businesses need to pull resources from all possible departments to ensure efficient handling and minimize the risk of harm to employees. This includes human resources, legal teams, mental health support, on-site security, and law enforcement.

Temporary changes can be made to operations to provide additional layers of protection for staff members. For example, if the perpetrator is familiar with the organization’s operations, part of the response plan may involve:

  • Altering shift hours and shift change times
  • Using buddy systems so no workers are left alone
  • Providing additional security guards or escorts in poorly lit areas like parking lots
  • Having additional medical personnel available

Addressing Security Gaps in Your Workplace Violence Prevention Policy

Implementing additional security measures based on proper workplace analysis and violence prevention planning is a primary factor in keeping employees safe. At Community Action Security, we provide a wide range of security services at a great value, including:

  • Security personnel
  • Mobile security patrol
  • Temporary and emergency security
  • Commercial security
  • Event and conference security

Let us guide you through the process of providing a safer and more secure workplace for your employees. We’re happy to examine your business and provide a free consultation and quote so you can make the best decision about how to protect your workers.

Discover for yourself why we’re the #1 company for security services in Arizona. Contact us today for more information.

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