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Nov 2, 2016

Although violence in the workplace continues to plague employers, many still cling to the idea that “those types of things would never happen here.” This does not mean that most employers turn a blind eye to workplace violence; in fact, many employers concern themselves with preventing violent behavior. Fortunately, there are many actions these employers can take to prepare themselves to handle dangerous situations when they occur.

Each year, about 2 million employees report that they have been victims of workplace violence. When one considers that these are only the reported cases, it makes you wonder: How many more cases would there be if every incident were reported? Additionally, the DOL Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) has reported that homicide is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S., with 403 workplace homicides in 2014. The 2015 report has not yet been released.

Workplace violence covers a wide range of behavior, from verbal threats to physical assaults. It also includes actions involving employers, employees, clients, and visitors. Depending on the work environment, some employers may have greater risk of encountering workplace violence than others. Location, time of day, nature of the work being performed, and handling of funds are all factors that can have a big impact on the likelihood of violence at work.

Threatening behavior

Americans spend a majority of their lives at work, surrounded by the same people day in and day out. Occasionally, being in close quarters with the same group of people can cause tension. Behavior is considered threatening when a reasonable person would believe that the behavior was meant to convey an individual’s intent to cause harm to another person or a person’s property. It can take the form of written or verbal statements, or physical gestures.

One of the key things employers can do to prevent workplace violence is to recognize signs of threatening behavior. The earlier that the behavior is detected, the quicker the situation can be addressed before it escalates. Warning signs may include, but are not limited to:

  • Threatening violence, even if it is done in a joking manner;
  • Making inappropriate jokes or playing pranks;
  • Damaging another’s property;
  • Fighting or arguing;
  • Using inappropriate language.

Prudent employers have policies in place to handle instances of threatening behavior. Where an employee exhibits any warning signs towards others, the corrective actions and procedures contained in the employer’s policy should be strictly enforced.

Active shooters

In some instances, an individual may decide to enter a workplace while carrying a weapon. Active shooters can be anyone, including ex-employees, current employees, and disgruntled customers.

Most employers have policies that prevent guns and other weapons from being brought onto work premises; however, managers and employees should always be prepared to handle situations where a weapon is involved. All employees should be aware of the facility’s procedures, such as reporting, evacuation, and communication, for dealing with emergencies.

Employers should inspect their workplaces and identify any areas where security might be lacking, such as broken alarms or back doors without alarms. Facilities should also have an outside phone line or a panic button so that the proper authorities may be contacted in the event of an emergency.

An employer’s main priority is the safety of his or her employees; therefore, ensuring that employees know how to behave during an active shooter situation is essential. The Department of Homeland Security has issued training materials for employers and supervisors that provide information on when an employee should either run, hide, or fight.

In active shooter situations, employees should be trained to first run to the nearest, safest exit. However, employers should emphasize that employees are not required to run if they feel that it would put them in further danger. If employees believe that running is not safe, then they should make best efforts to hide from plain view and barricade themselves in an area where the shooter cannot access. Employers must make it clear that, under no circumstances, are employees required to attempt to incapacitate an active shooter.

To better prepare their employees to deal with active shooters, prudent employers may offer training courses. Employers should also make sure to conduct routine checks of the entrances to all facilities to ensure that all security equipment is functioning properly. Additionally, depending on the nature of the workplace, employers may consider hiring additional security.

Security audits

Employers may not be able to prevent every instance of workplace violence; however, there are steps they can take in order to increase protection for their employees and their facilities.

It is important for employers to perform routine security audits of their entire workplace. These audits may either be done by the employer or by a third-party security company. Audits should review:

  • All workplace security policies;
  • Training programs and materials;
  • Building access (e.g., swipe access, passcodes, etc.);
  • Building security (e.g., employee IDs, visitor requirements);
  • Surveillance (e.g., cameras, whether the facility and parking areas are well-lit);
  • All security and alarm equipment;
  • Emergency exits.

Additional precautions

In some settings, employers may be required to have additional policies in place for emergencies. These policies can include fire drills, evacuation drills, and lockdown procedures. When employees are required to leave the building, they should be instructed to go to a designated safe space so that the employer may accurately account for everyone’s safety. If a lockdown procedure is initiated, employees should lock themselves in areas with the least amount of access, turn off all of the lights, and keep away from the windows so that they can remain out of sight.

OSHA has a resource page with links to training materials and programs.

Employers who are prepared, and those who prepare their employees to recognize warning signs and respond properly to situations of workplace violence will find themselves in much better situations during emergencies. Having set procedures will help ensure prompt responses and enhance the safety of everyone in the facility.

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