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Minimizing the Risk of Violence in the Workplace

Filed under Office & HR.

Violence in the workplace has always been a concern for employers in one form or another. The recent downturn in the economy has created a heightened awareness of this issue for employers and employees nationwide. Workplace violence or the threat of violence can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide. Workplace violence is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths.

Workplace violence has "clearly hit epidemic proportions here in the United States," according to Dr. Paul Michael Viollis, Sr., CEO of Risk Control Strategies. That company provides assessments and recommendations for reducing exposure to risk associated with workplace-related incidents. There is an average of 5,500 incidents of workplace violence per day in the United States, affecting approximately 135 million American workers each year, according to Viollis.

These scary statistics make it clear that employers must be proactive rather than reactive when confronting violence in the workplace. The obligation under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) General Duty Clause to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all covered workers underscores the danger that workplace violence presents to businesses. Employers may believe that most violent acts in the workplace are random and unpredictable, but Dr. Viollis claims this is a misconception. "Workplace violence is always avoidable. Perpetrators not only exhibit signs of erratic behavior, but usually even boast about their plans to peers. Those who are tipped off usually don't take the threats seriously," Viollis said.

If there can be good news when it comes to workplace violence, it is that the vast majority of violent acts in the workplace are predictable and very likely can be avoided. How does an employer do this? OSHA has issued guidelines to help employers set up effective violence prevention programs, and Dr. Viollis recommends the following steps that any employer can take to prevent workplace violence from occurring, and to minimize its effect if it does occur:

  • Conduct a formal workplace violence risk assessment.
  • Increase building access control and security, as needed.
  • Establish a workplace violence prevention policy.
  • Examine and improve hiring practices.
  • Establish termination policies and provide post-termination counseling.
  • Train employees in the warning signs.
  • Train management in threat assessment and de-escalation techniques.
  • Develop a contingency plan that includes crisis communication.
  • Review insurance and verify coverage and exclusion.

These steps can be tailored to fit the needs of your business and your employees. The most important step an employer can take is to recognize that violence in the workplace isn't something that happens elsewhere, and that there are effective strategies that can be implemented to keep the workplace safe.

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