Preventing Workplace Violence

Last Updated: September 21, 2021By Categories: Safety, Safety Matters

It happens regularly, so your company must have a plan in place to cover employees and anyone who interacts with staff members.

By Alexandra Walsh

Workplace violence is actual violence or the threat of violence against workers and is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide. Some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide. It is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths, and can affect and involve employers, employees, customers, and visitors.

Acts of violence and other injuries rank currently as the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, of the 5147 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2017, 458 were cases of intentional injury by another person.

Who Is at Risk?

Many American workers report having been victims of workplace violence every year. But unfortunately, many more cases go unreported.

Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites. Such factors include exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence.

Additionally, the time of day and location of business—working late at night or in areas with high crime rates—are also risk factors that should be considered when addressing issues of workplace violence.

Among those at higher risk are not only those workers who handle money with the public, but workers who provide services to outside homeowners and businesses, delivery drivers, and others who work alone or in small groups.

Reducing Workplace Violence Hazards

In most workplaces where risk factors for violence can be identified, the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions.

One of the best protections employers can offer their workers is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. Besides workers, this policy should cover all clients and customers, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel.

By examining their worksites and places of business, employers can identify best methods for reducing the likelihood of violent incidents occurring.

Violence Prevention Programs

OSHA states a well-written and implemented workplace violence prevention program, combined with engineering controls, administrative controls, and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence.

This can be a separate workplace violence prevention program, or it can be incorporated into an overall safety and health program, an employee handbook, or a manual of standard operating procedures.

It is critical to make certain all workers know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.

Besides such a policy, employers can offer additional protections:

  • Provide safety education for employees so they 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. 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. If you use registers, keep a minimal amount of cash in them 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. Keep all employer-provided vehicles properly maintained.
  • Instruct employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Introduce a “buddy system” or provide an escort service or police assistance in potentially dangerous situations or at night.
  • Address business involving home visits, the presence of others in the home during visits, and the worker’s right to refuse services in a clearly hazardous situation.

How Can Employees Protect Themselves?

Nothing can guarantee an employee won’t become a victim of workplace violence. These steps can help reduce the odds:

  • Attend personal safety training programs to learn how to recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations.
  • Alert supervisors to any concerns about safety or security and report all incidents immediately in writing.
  • Avoid traveling alone into unfamiliar locations or situations whenever possible.
  • Carry only a minimal amount of money, required identification, and cellphone with you.

After an Incident

After a workplace violence incident occurs, an employer should:

  • Encourage employees to be sure to report and log any future incidents and threats.
  • Provide prompt medical evaluation and treatment of the victim after an incident.
  • Report violent incidents to the local police promptly.
  • Inform victims of their legal right to prosecute perpetrators.
  • Discuss the circumstances of the incident with staff members. Encourage employees to share information about ways to avoid similar situations in the future.
  • Offer debriefing sessions and post-traumatic counseling to help workers recover from a violent incident.
  • Investigate all violent incidents and threats, monitor trends in violent incidents, and institute corrective actions.
  • Discuss any changes made to the violence prevention program during regular employee meetings.

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Again, nothing can prevent workplace violence from ever happening, but your company can do more than reduce the chances of it occurring, but also be ready if and when it does.

Guidance such as OSHA’s Safety and Health Management Program Guidelines identify elements that are critical to a company developing a successful safety and health management system. This and other information are available on OSHA’s website.

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Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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