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Safety and Security Aug 03, 2021

How to Create a Workplace Violence Prevention Program

Preventing workplace violence starts with knowing how to identify risks. This post will cover some basic guidelines for creating a plan to prevent workplace violence and improve overall workplace safety.

From thrillers to heist films, there is no shortage of Hollywood examples depicting companies and their employees rocked by dangerous situations at work. These scenarios are often vivid, memorable, and even shocking—and while no one wants to imagine their business in such a state of affairs, workplace violence is not just something that happens in the movies.

Each year, an average of nearly 2 million U.S. workers report being a victim of violence at work, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Assaults are the second leading cause of workplace deaths and resulted in more than 20,000 injuries in 2019, the National Safety Council reports. That doesn’t count the estimated 25 percent of workplace violence that goes unreported.

While a Die Hard-level altercation might be extremely rare, many employees have experienced clashes caused by opposing personalities, leadership style differences, or personal issues. Stressful situations like employee layoffs or firings can also cause people to lash out. In most cases, calmer heads prevail, and these altercations stop short of rising to the level of workplace violence. However, wishful thinking isn’t a strategy, and it’s prudent for organizations to do everything in their power to reduce the risk of escalation.

Fortunately, there are concrete and practical actions employers can take to help prevent these events from impacting your place of business. This post will cover some basic guidelines for creating a plan to prevent workplace violence and improve overall workplace safety.

What Is Workplace Violence?

OSHA defined workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening behavior that occurs at the worksite.”

Violent acts in the workplace take many forms, ranging from an offensive comment or verbal abuse to physical assault, rape, or workplace homicide. These incidents are generally caused by an employee, former employee, contractor, vendor, or customer. Incidents of workplace violence may occur inside or outside the office (i.e., parking lots or at company happy hours) as well as in remote work sites or locations.The most commonly recurring types of workplace violence are:

  • Criminal intent by an unaffiliated party, such as robbery or trespassing
  • Customer or client aggression towards a place of business or its employees
  • Worker-on-worker violence, including issues between employees or contractors
  • Personal relationship, for example, a partner, ex-partner, or family member of an employee

Why Every Business Needs a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan

Workplace violence prevention is something business leaders can’t ignore. Both OSHA and the FBI cite employers’ legal and ethical obligation to promote a work environment free from threats and violence (also known as their duty of care responsibility). Yet, according to a 2019 report, 19% of HR professionals are unsure what to do when involved in a workplace violence incident, and 55% don’t know whether their organization has a workplace violence prevention program.

The most obvious and important benefit to having a workplace violence prevention plan is saving lives and reducing injuries. Beyond that, having a prevention plan in place will:

  • Demonstrate a corporate commitment to providing safe working conditions
  • Ensure a swift response without confusion about what should be done and by whom

Unlike natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, there’s no advisory system in place to detect and monitor the potential for violence impacting your business. Even the most comprehensive prevention plan can’t guarantee absolute protection, but there are concrete actions you can take to lower the risks.

3 Key Elements of a Successful Workplace Violence Prevention Plan

A successful plan is three-pronged and includes:

  • Workplace violence prevention training programs to teach employees about recognizing the potential for violent behavior
  • A clear process for reporting incidents, threats, and other concerns
  • Intervention measures to properly evaluate and combat issues

The best way to prepare your business is by attempting to prevent the event completely. In addition, knowing how to prepare for and react to violent conduct is critical to an effective response. Follow these steps to prepare your business and safeguard your workforce in the face of violent conduct.

Workplace Violence Mitigation Strategies

1. Perform a risk assessment

Conducting a thorough assessment of your workplace is the first step towards prevention. Pinpoint any vulnerabilities at your office or worksite that need to be addressed. Workplace violence statistics indicate some factors that may increase the risk of violence, including gender and occupation.

  • In particular, women are more vulnerable to attack, especially domestic violence, in the workplace.
  • Occupations such as health care workers, teachers, social workers, delivery drivers, and taxi drivers are at higher risk.
  • Conditions such as working alone, in isolated areas, at night, or where alcohol is served are also risk factors for aggressive behavior.
  • Other vulnerabilities may include any type of situation that could lead to violence at work, such as inadequate security, lack of staff, or the perception that acts of violence are not taken seriously.

Your organization should assess and monitor these factors on an ongoing basis. If there have been previous incidents, study them to learn where there might be gaps in your current policy (if you have one). How were the incidents handled? What systems were put in place to avoid future incidents and are they sufficient?

2. Foster a supportive working environment

You and your Human Resources department must make employees feel heard and supported at work. Establishing trust and confidentiality will go a long way in letting employees know they can report incidents without fear of retaliation or reprimand. Here are a few ways you can foster a non-toxic work environment free from bullying and harassment:

  • Encourage your employees to speak up about their concerns, especially those involving threats to their personal safety or imminent danger.
  • Create a culture of acceptance of individual differences.
  • Offer communication training to provide employees with tools for non-violent conflict resolution.
  • Look out for hazards (including stress and negativity) in the workplace and take actions to correct them.

3. Establish a strict policy against workplace violence

Whether it’s “zero tolerance” or something more nuanced, your company’s workplace violence policy serves as a public commitment to a safer working environment for all your people. Your policy should include a clear statement that violence is unacceptable, will not be tolerated, and that the organization is committed to preventing, controlling, and eliminating violence through specific procedures and disciplinary actions.

The policy should clearly outline your process for reporting incidents, threats, or concerns, as well as for investigating the event promptly and privately. Describe what actions staff and managers should take if a violent incident occurs. For example:

  • What should a staff member do if a customer verbally abuses them?
  • Do they have the right to ask that person to leave?
  • Can the employee leave their workspace?
  • Should they call the police?

In addition, let people know what specific measures and actions you’re taking as a company to limit threats of violence, whether it’s background checks for new employees or banning firearms on company premises. Be sure to involve people at all levels in creating and supporting your plan, including employees, managers, and c-suite executives.

4. Create an emergency response plan

While no employer wants to imagine a violent incident involving their business or employees, not having a plan is not an option. Having a clear plan in place will be critical for protecting your people if tragedy strikes. Map out essential elements of your plan, including:

  • Implementing an emergency communication system: Information is vital in an emergency. An emergency communication system lets you inform all employees of an emergent situation, provide action plans, and check in on their well-being via multiple channels. Employees—particularly those that often work alone, like security guards, social service workers, and home healthcare workers—can also signal for help via an employee safety monitoring app.
  • Identifying evacuation routes: Ensure people know where all exits are located and any special evacuation instructions for crisis response. The more prepared your people are, the quicker they can get to safety.
  • Establishing rendezvous points: As with a fire evacuation or a disaster response plan, your workplace violence prevention plan should include a predetermined meeting point for employees to gather once the coast is clear. You can use an emergency notification system to let employees know when it’s safe to reenter the building.
  • Providing appropriate response strategies: Run, Hide, Fight is a prominent defense strategy taught for individual response to an active shooter situation or other violent conflict scenarios. It should be combined with your coordinated response, including calling 911 and law enforcement ASAP.
  • Conducting drills and raising awareness: Instead of just sending a company-wide email, take time to communicate the plan with your teams in an open discussion format. Allow them to ask questions and make sure they understand what to do in a variety of situations. Active shooter drills are certainly no fun, but they’re worth it if it means preventing loss of life.

5. Empower your teams

Of course, commitment to preventing workplace violence goes beyond simply creating a plan. It requires allocating resources to ongoing training sessions and awareness around workplace violence prevention. When it comes to limiting any kind of clashes that could affect your business, you can empower employees through training in a few different ways:

Teach them to recognize warning signs

Being able to register red flags and potential risks can help employees avoid or circumvent a violent situation. Warning signs that may indicate the potential for violent action include:

  • Abnormal behavior
  • Depression
  • Aggression or hostility
  • Mood swings
  • An apparent decline in mental health
  • Paranoia
  • Dependency on drugs and/or alcohol
  • Periods of high stress within the company or an individual’s personal life may also trigger aggressive behaviors towards others.
Provide first aid training

Company-sponsored first aid training has multiple benefits. With proper first aid knowledge, employees can help save lives in the event of a crisis. Whether the unthinkable is a natural disaster or an active shooter, first aid skills serve a critical need. They can help their families at home or others in the community.

Offer post-incident support

Empowering your people doesn’t stop after the event is over. People may need extra support after a traumatic event. Support their recovery process by providing resources they need, such as time off, trauma counseling, or financial assistance with medical bills.

In Conclusion

While you never hope to use these emergency measures, it should give you some peace of mind to know your organization is prepared. Additionally, doing your part to mitigate workplace violence through prevention policies, awareness, and training will have a lasting impact on your organization, your employees and their families, and the community as a whole.

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