It’s concerning but true: workplace violence, including assaults and homicides, made up 16 percent of all work-related fatal occupational injuries in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the US Department of Labor (DOL) reports that every year, approximately 2 million people throughout the country are victims of non-fatal violence at the workplace.
While there has been a slight drop in the number of homicides in US workplaces (trending data show 403 in 2013 versus 468 in 2011), more recent events involving acts of terror and workplace shootings send a clear message to all employers that every employer and its workforce can and should be prepared.
The ramifications of not being prepared are huge. In fact, the DOL says that it’s “impossible to overstate the costs of workplace violence, because a single incident can have sweeping repercussions.”
In addition to the most critical consequences like physical and psychological harm, the DOL outlines other areas that workplace violence can impact, such as:
- Diversion of management resources
- Increased personnel costs
- Increased security costs
- Increased workers’ compensation costs
- Productivity impediments
- Property damage, theft and sabotage
- Temporary or permanent absence of a skilled employee
The good news is that with the proper training to identify the warning signs, a policy of open communication, and informing staff to know how to react in a violent situation, your company can help prevent violence in the workplace and better handle an event, should it arise.
Being Prepared Before a Situation Occurs
Preventing workplace violence is everyone’s job, from management to employee. Often, one of the first preventable risks is addressing the fact that people tend to keep to themselves, and feel as if it’s not their place to get involved.
But when employees exhibit behavior or make statements that indicate they could be a potential threat to others, everyone should feel empowered to identify these behaviors and bring them to the attention of the proper authority.
But it’s not always easy to know how to act. The DOL’s workplace violence program (linked to earlier) outlines the complex nature of identifying warning signs:
While they are often preventable, it is still difficult to determine whether or not any particular workplace situation is potentially violent. This is an emotional and complex topic, and decisions about what to do in certain situations are not always straightforward or made in a clearheaded state of mind. In many cases, employees ignore warning signs because they believe they are not important, “that’s just the way Joe is,” or that it is none of their business. In other situations, employees react based on fear and what they believe is the profile of a potentially violent person, not necessarily observed actual behavior. Another major hindrance is not knowing where to go to get help in making determinations regarding real and potential risks.
This is where your workplace training and procedures come in handy to help define what those early signs might look like and what the appropriate course of action is. The DOL defines the earliest warning signs as simply intimidation, disrespect, uncooperative behavior and verbal abuse.
Make sure as part of your program that your staff understands it’s not just about complying with regulations, but also that you value them as people and want to keep them safe.
As an employer, when people do come to you with concerns, it’s crucial that every effort is made to ensure you’re taking the information seriously to help reinforce that employees are doing the right thing by coming to you.
Other steps you can take to safeguard the workplace include securing entrances with key cards, installing security cameras, having on-site guards and so on. While all of these are all good steps to take, your employees’ preparedness can be just as – if not more – powerful.