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Violence and the Workplace

Sadly, violence in the workplace is all too common. Workplace violence can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assault and homicide. A report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released in 2013 shows that in the years studied, an average of 551 workers were killed each year as a result of work-related homicides. In 2013, violence in the workplace accounted for 17% of the reported workplace fatalities.

According to the study, robbers were the most common type of workplace assailant for men and the second most common for women in 2013. In cases where the assailant was a relative or domestic partner, the victims were overwhelmingly female. A coworker or associate was the third most common assailant, according to the report. Read on to learn more about employer obligations regarding workplace safety and the steps companies can take to prevent violence form occurring.

Employer's Obligation to Protect Employees

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) requires all employers to provide their employees with a workplace that is free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Employers who fail to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace violence can be cited. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has identified multiple issues that prevent companies from implementing workplace violence prevention plans, including:

  • A corporate attitude of denial and a culture of violence
  • Lack of worker empowerment
  • Lack of incentives and presence of disincentives
  • Lack of awareness, knowledge, or access to available information and resources
  • Lack of communication skills and training
  • Lack of reporting or effective follow-up to reported workplace violence events
  • Lack of a written workplace violence prevention policy, definition, and consequences
  • Lack of teamwork and partnerships


What steps can be taken to help prevent workplace violence?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends taking the following steps to prevent workplace violence:

  • Establish a zero tolerance policy toward workplace violence by or against employees
  • Establish a workplace violence prevention program that is communicated to all employees
  • Provide safety education to employees so they know what conduct is not acceptable, what to do if they witness such conduct, and how to protect themselves
  • Secure the workplace through the use of identification badges, electronic keys, and guards, as appropriate
  • Provide drop safes to limit the amount of cash on site
  • Provide in-the-field staff with cell phones and train them to inform a contact person with their location throughout the day
  • Advise staff not to enter any location where they feel unsafe
  • Develop policies covering visits by home-healthcare workers


Implementing a Workplace Violence Prevention Program

A comprehensive workplace violence prevention program should include the following:

Company-wide Support

Companies should enlist the help of employees across various departments and levels of the organization to develop the program. This will help ensure the commitment of various personnel, and will help address the many areas needed to create a complete approach.

Employee Education

Employers should include a written policy in the company handbook that’s communicated to all employees. A policy is only effective if employees know about it and understand it. This should include educating employees about inappropriate conduct, how they can protect themselves and others, and consequences for actions that violate company policy.

Screening and Background Checks

Employers should always carry out proper screenings and background checks of potential applicants. Be sure to comply with legal requirements regarding disabilities and civil rights.

Prevention Training

Training supervisors and managers in proper prevention techniques and handling of workplace violence issues is an important step. Such training can include how to communicate with employees, maintaining a safe workplace, dealing with performance problems and conflicts, spotting potential problems, how to respond to disruptive or threatening behavior, reporting incidents, and how to deal with post-incident effects.

Reporting and Emergency Procedures

Developing a system for documenting and reporting violent incidents is an important step in preventing future incidents. Companies should also develop emergency procedures to be followed in the event a violent incident occurs in the workplace.

Periodic reviews

It’s imperative to learn from any events, identify any gaps in the program, and use this information to learn how to identify how to prevent future incidents.

There are many resources available to employers to begin this endeavor. The risks involved in failing to take steps to prevent workplace violence are far too great not to do so.

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