Reducing Workplace Violence

We hear a lot about the most extreme forms of workplace violence—mass shooting incidents being the prime example—but how often do we drill down on all the different ways that violence can occur in the workplace. In order to mitigate the risk of violence, it’s important to first understand the four main types of workplace violence that could compromise employee safety. These are:

  1. Criminal intent: The perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence. These crimes can include robbery/theft, shoplifting, trespassing and terrorism.
  2. Customer or client: The perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business. It is believed that a large portion of customer/client incidents occur in caregiver settings—which makes this a particular concern for employees of youth-serving and community organizations who may find themselves in a caregiver role.
  3. Worker-on-worker: The perpetrator is an employee or past employee who attacks or threatens another employee(s) or past employee(s) in the workplace.
  4. Personal relationship: The perpetrator usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. This category includes victims of domestic violence who are assaulted or threatened while at work.

It’s important to remember that violence does not only refer to physical violence such as homicide or physical assault. Generally speaking, any action or behavior–from rumors, swearing, verbal abuse, pranks, arguments, property damage, vandalism, sabotage, pushing, theft, physical assaults, psychological trauma, anger-related incidents, rape, arson to murder–are all examples of workplace violence and/or harassment.

Steps You Can Take to Combat Workplace Violence

Striving to prevent workplace violence is everyone’s responsibility. We all have a right to work in an environment that does not pose a risk of serious harm and we all have the power to help ensure this for ourselves and others. Here are some initial steps to consider:

  1. Create Policies That Protect Workers
    The first step toward preventing workplace violence is to create policies for employees that outline what is acceptable behavior and what is not—both from their co-workers and members of the public alike. These policies can include the most common types of workplace violence, non-discrimination, racial or sexual harassment, drug and alcohol use and safety procedures. Distribute the policies to all levels of the workplace including employees, managers, leadership and contract workers. In addition, make sure you carefully establish a complaint process and communicate this process in your policies.
  2. Take Physical Steps to Make Your Environment Safe
    In addition to policies, employers can work to prevent workplace violence by including security measures such as lighting, premises security and even data security (to prevent unauthorized use of employer computer systems). Lone workers such as maintenance, camp caretakers, membership directors and transport workers should be equipped with life-saving technology. There are several easy-to-use mobile apps, and check in monitoring systems, for example which are designed to enhance lone worker safety in life-threatening or dangerous situations. Empower workers to quickly send a distress signal to alert the necessary authorities in the event of a crisis.  Have a plan.
  3. Limit Access to Non-Employees
    To protect workers, employers should take steps to limit visitors who have no business being on campus. This step also helps prevent “crimes of opportunity”, where violence occurs because a door or gate was left unsecured. Some steps many organizations take to limit visitors are:

    • ID cards for employees and visitors
    • Sign-in desk
    • Access card entry systems
      • Change the access to a personal check-in at the desk quarterly
    • Video surveillance
      • Inside and outside
      • Quarterly review of camera scan parameters
    • Security guards or maintenance workers who patrol the facility and grounds
    • Metal detectors at building entry points
    • Uber/Lyft reimbursement for employees who normally walk or bike to work but have to work late
  4. Train Employees on Safety Awareness
    Set up training sessions to help employees understand the threat of intruders and the very real risks they present. In addition, encourage employees to report suspicious visitors, problematic behavior by members or guests or any potential acts of violence. For instance: Who should employees tell and what details are important? This type of reporting should be specific. Every minute counts when a potentially life-threatening situation is occurring.
  5. Communicate Effectively
    Relating critical information is vital in preventing workplace violence. Make sure teams are meeting regularly to discuss their work and to air any unresolved tensions or disagreements. Teach employees to discuss their differences in appropriate ways and encourage each employee to be open-minded with their fellow team members. Monitor teams and make sure to step in if tensions are so high that violence is possible. Work toward a quick resolution of conflicts. Finally, a reliable employee notification system is a must-have in keeping your people informed of potentially dangerous situations.
Putting plans in place to prevent workplace violence is every employer’s responsibility. Take steps now to mitigate the risk of danger and make the workplace safe for all employees.