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How to Prevent Workplace Violence

When you wake in the morning to shuffle off to work, the last thing on your mind is to come face-to-face with a situation on the job that threatens your life. Violence in the workplace is a serious safety and health issue that occurs more often than one thinks. In the most extreme form of workplace violence, homicide is the result, which according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) is one of the top-five leading causes of terminal occupational injury in the United States [1]. While workplace violence is often unpredictable, prevention measures serve as an ongoing responsibility.

How to Prevent Workplace Violence

Depending on the type of job you hold, there are certain environmental conditions that contribute to a higher risk in workplace assaults and other acts of violence. Once the potential for disaster has been identified, control strategies are often implemented within the work setting in an effort to make coming to work a much safer environment for both employees and employers.

What is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence is exactly how it sounds – it is the violent actions or the threat of violence that takes place against workers while on the job. The violence may erupt from within the job scene or come from outside contact, where verbal abuse; threats of aggression; physical assault; and homicide are some of the most common forms of the act [2].

Today, workplace violence is becoming an increasing concern for employers and employees across the nation. The simplest form of the act may include verbal threats, while the worst cases end in the use of a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or other instrument of destruction that cuts, stabs, or pierces the skin.

The Negative Effects of Workplace Violence

One of the worst outcomes associated with workplace violence is the loss of life, followed by injury, which may or may not permanently affect a victim for the rest of their life. The threat or potential of violence in the workplace breeds fear, which affects the ability for employees to efficiently complete their job. When an increase in workplace violence (pertaining to a particular job position or career field) begins to take place about the United States and on a worldwide scale, many employees are reluctant to come to work and may attempt to seek alternate means of employment.

Productivity falters and employers find themselves scrambling to find employees. If the drought in hiring is deep, the next crop of employees may not possess as much experience because management is desperate to fill positions. Overall, workplace violence is a vicious cycle that continues to affect the population in more ways than one – mentally, physically, and financially.

Workplace Violence Risk Factors

Each year, about two million workers in the U.S. will become victims of workplace violence. The act may occur in any work setting, however, there are certain occupations and job settings that face a higher risk. A few to consider include:

a) Money Management:

Workers who exchange money with the public are at risk for workplace violence that is often seen when thieves attempt to rob places of employment.

b) Delivery Services:

Employees responsible for delivering passengers, goods, or services face an increased chance of coming in contact with workplace violence [3]. Examples of this type of risk is seen when the pizza deliveryman is robbed in the middle of the night or a disgruntled passenger confronts a bus driver.

c) Work Numbers:

When employees work alone or in small groups, it is much easier for an individual or group of assailants to commit a violent act against them due to minimal resistance. A perfect example is the robbery of a gas station where only one attendant is on duty.

d) Work Hours:

Usually, those who work early in the morning or late at night face a high risk of violence while on the job, as there are less witnesses to worry about. The day manager of a clothing store who opens up the shop before anyone else arrives is an example of a prime target for violence.

e) High-Crime Areas:

For employees who work in a neighborhood or stretch of town known for high-crime rates, the chances are obviously higher for workplace violence than someone who works in the suburbs.

f) Community Settings:

When employees work in an environment where they are in constant contact with the public, they become common targets of workplace violence. This includes workers in the healthcare profession or those who provide social services assistance. Victims of community workplace violence also include visiting nurses, psychiatric evaluators, bank security guards, probation officers, taxicab drivers, and store clerks.

In general, any setting that poses the threat of a disgruntled patron, client, or customer has the potential of ending in workplace violence, such as the gas and water utility employee or the phone and cable TV installers that cut off services for delinquent payments. Letter carriers are also famous victims of workplace violence that comes from both humans and domesticated animals, such as dogs, who bark, chase, and sometimes bite those delivering the mail.

g) Workplace Bullying:

Outside influences are not the only instance that involves workplace violence – co-workers are also common culprits known to threaten and attack fellow workers. What is known as workplace bullying may also take place, which comes in many variations, such as: organizational bullying; corporate bullying; institutional bullying; client bullying; group bullying (mobbing); regulation bullying; and even cyber bullying.

How to Prevent Workplace Violence

The next time you make your way to the office or get ready to punch in the clock, the least of your concerns should be an act of violence. While the overall nature of the occurrence is quite unpredictable, there are a few warning signs to pinpoint the kind of workplace violence that takes place amongst co-workers. For example, it is important to address any signs of a disgruntled employee right away. Below you will find some of the prevention methods that both employers and employees may follow in the workplace:

a) Make Counseling Services Readily Available:

Many cases of workplace violence have erupted because an employee has brought their personal problems regarding their home life, marriage, or bills to the job. When proper outlets to express their frustration and possibly seek the help they need is readily available, the chances they will take their problems out on co-workers is significantly reduced. Sometimes, all a person really needs is someone to listen to him or her.

b) Violence Prevention Programs:

Within the workplace, violence prevention programs aim to reduce the hazards that allow some forms of aggression to take place. Some of the topics included in such a program may include effective conflict resolution and how to develop nonviolent responses. All employees, including managers and supervisors should attend such programs, which may or may not become a mandatory part of a company, organization, or office.

c) Implement Prevention Strategies:

Often, prevention programs include an assortment of environmental, administrative, and behavioral strategies with the intention to decrease the risk of in-house workplace violence. This may include creating good visibility within and outside of the workplace; tweaking cash-handling policies; establishing a physical separation between employees and customers (bulletproof barriers when necessary); installing decent lighting; providing escort services; beefing up security and the use of security devices (silent alarms and surveillance cameras); and increasing employee training [4].

An employee who handles cash, such as a bank employee, jewelry store, or store clerk, faces high risk pertaining to workplace violence, such as robbery, but some prevention measures help deter this type of crime. Posting signs stated that limited cash is on hand is a common technique, which is often seen at gas stations. Drop safes aid in minimizing the amount of cash on hand sometimes helps. Also, workers who are responsible for bank deposits should travel in numbers, especially when they follow a routine pattern of travel, timing, and habits.

d) Worksite Analysis:

Implementing a complete rundown of existing or potential hazards in the workplace may help prevent occurrences in the future.

e) Safety and Health Training:

Much different than the regular workplace violence prevention programs, safety and health training not only makes staff aware of hazards, but also on how to protect themselves by following the policies, procedures and training guidelines set by management.

f) Recordkeeping and Program Evaluation:

Offices and companies that document the incidence of workplace violence regarding their specific environment in detail, are better able to pinpoint the main causes of their conflict in order to shape future programs and action.

g) Violence Prevention Written Plan [5]:

To deter workplace violence, a written program should state the goals and objectives of a company or office in regards to the lengths they will go to protect their employees, as well as what employees must do to ensure their safety and health. Clearly illustrating the consequences of workplace violence also helps discourage the act from taking place.

h) Encourage Management Commitment and Employee Involvement:

Without the commitment and support of management, employees are less likely to cooperate with any programs centered on employee emotional and physical safety and health. It is also important to stress to employees that reporting and logging all incidents and threats (no matter how minor) helps to prevent the escalation of more serious forms of workplace violence.

i) Offsite Protection:

When employees leave the office to carry out job duties, a system of constant contact should take place, where the use of cell phones, hand-held alarms, and other noisy devices is encouraged.

Resources

[1] http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/
[2] http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/factsheet-workplace-violence.pdf
[3] http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/homicide.html
[4] http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/violfs.html
[5] http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/hospital/hazards/workplaceviolence/viol.html#ViolencePreventionPlan

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