Preventing Workplace Violence

By: Melonie Geddes

The recent tragedy in Orlando has made many of us reflect on all the mass shootings we have experienced in the recent past and it reminds us how common violence in the workplace has become. What would you do if a gunman entered your place of work? How would you keep employees safe and minimize the loss of life? It’s a disturbing reality, but workplace violence is a very real threat. As the daily news has shown us, this type of tragedy can occur anywhere, at anytime.

As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect your employees while at work. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) is the federal statute that requires companies to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that are hazardous or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, provided there is a feasible method to eliminate or reduce the hazard.  This not only applies to dangerous job related tasks, but also the threat of physical harm by someone in or entering the workplace. Therefore employers should consider creating a workplace violence prevention program. Such a program could mitigate, at least some, of the risk and show employees that you care about their safety. But where do you begin?

The first step would be defining workplace violence, as it relates to your company and company culture. Perception is reality and one person’s perceived teasing may be another person’s perceived threat. Therefore it is imperative to define what your organization deems violent behavior in order to alleviate misunderstandings. It should be spelled out in clear, simple language.

Once you have a clear definition, you should establish a zero-tolerance policy for violence in the workplace. This sends a clear message to everyone that there are consequences for hostile behavior and violent actions. And it is one of the best precautions you can take. This zero-tolerance should extend to pre-employment checks, insuring that you don’t hire employees that have exhibited volatile behaviors in the past.

Next, you can use the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines to create a program that suits the needs of your workplace. Their suggested steps for protecting employees are as follows:

  • Provide safety education so that workers 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. Where appropriate to the business, 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. Keep a minimal amount of cash in registers 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. And be sure to keep your company vehicles properly maintained.
  • Tell employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Instead, introduce a “buddy system” or provide a guard or police assistance in potentially unsafe situations or at night.

Additionally, employers can establish an exit plan that shows employees the quickest and safest ways to exit the building. Employees should be keenly aware of the nearest exit route from their work area.

Ensure that your completed workplace violence prevention program is included in an existing accident prevention program or employee handbook. It is not unheard of to hold safety drills in order to practice such plans/programs.

Workplace violence is becoming an increasing problem that affects us all. Please make a commitment and take necessary prevention measures so that your workplace doesn’t become a tragic statistic.