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Workplace Violence

It was about five years ago that I wrote my first article on workplace violence on Disaster Preparedness Blog, and I am sad to say not much has changed in the last several years.

According to OSHA, nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year, and homicide is the leading cause of death for woman in the workplace. However, contrary to popular belief, most workplace violence and homicides are caused through robberies and not crimes of passion committed by spouses, jilted lovers, or disgruntled employees.

In fact Robberies made up 67% of all workplace homicides, disgruntled employees (coworkers and former coworkers) made up 15%, while customers and acquaintances made up another 15% (8 and 7percent respectively), and relatives made up the remainder at 3-4%, according to a 1998 U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Study.

If we exclude several of the known high-risk professions such as Police, Security, Taxi and chauffeur drivers the list of at risk professions becomes very interesting. Retail trade and services makes for a combined total of nearly 60% of all workplace homicides. Of these, retail trade and food stores such as grocery stores and bakeries make up the bulk of these homicides. This is followed by eating places (restaurants) and drinking places (bars), then by automotive dealers and service stations (mostly gas stations).

Within the service industry it included legal services, social services, guards and armored car services, hotels, and personal services such as laundry, cleaning, beauty shops, automobile repairs, parking services. This is followed by health services including hospitals, home healthcare and clinics.

People who work as executives, managers and administrators have low chance of becoming a victim of workplace violence with one exception. Managers of service and lodging establishments are five time more likely to be victims of workplace violence than other members of the general public.

Another common misconception is that most workplace violence and homicides occur in the late night hours. Interestingly the times with the fewest homicides occur during two four hour blocks of time, the first, midnight to 4:00 AM, and the second, 4:00 AM to 8:00 AM. Equally as interesting, there were just as many homicides from 8:00 AM to noon, as there was from 8:00 PM to midnight.

Now that we have discussed some of the common misconceptions, what can we do to minimize workplace violence and reduce our chances of becoming victims?

First, recognize if you are in a category or profession that is considered high-risk for workplace violence. These include people who deal with the public, the exchange of money, and the delivery of services or goods.

Prevention Strategies For Workplace Violence:

Prevention strategies for minimizing the risk of workplace violence include:

  • Cash-handling policies.
  • Physical separation of workers from customers
  • Good lighting
  • Security devices
  • Employee escort services
  • Employee training
  • Violence Prevention program
  • Reporting Program

A workplace violence prevention program should include a system for documenting incidents, procedures to be taken in the event of incidents, and open communication between employers and workers. Although no definitive prevention strategy is appropriate for all workplaces, all workers and employers should assess the risks for violence in their workplaces and take appropriate action to reduce those risks.

Today, most companies have instituted some type of workplace violence prevention program. However, not all businesses have created such a program, or even know where to start. First, it is important, in fact vital to understand that not all workplace violence happens suddenly or out of the blue.

When workplace violence occurs that is not associated with a crime or robbery there are usually displays of behaviors that create concern. For instance if a co-worker starts to exhibit different or unusual types of behavior that they would not normally be associated as displaying. These behaviors can include, sadness, depression, threats, menacing or erratic behavior, aggressive outbursts, references to weaponry, verbal abuse, inability to handle criticism, hypersensitivity to perceived slights, and offensive commentary or jokes referring to violence.

However, it is important to note that no single behavior is more suggestive of violence than another. All actions have to be judged in the proper context and in totality to determine the potential for violence.

Intervention and Warning Signs of Workplace Violence:

Many companies provide methods for intervention which can include 24/7 tip or hot lines, drop boxes, or even a policy of sending an email to human resources or security. Some have set up employee assistance programs to help employees that may need some assistance in dealing with stress, workplace related issues, and even with problems outside the workplace. It is important to note here that any intervention MUST occur before the flash point of violence takes place. Once an act of workplace violence occurs, it is to late to prevent.

Often, after a workplace violence incident, co-workers will have a “sense” that something was not right. So authorities will tell you that “if you sense something, say something.”

If you would like suggestions on preventing workplace violence in your business, or if you would like more information on setting up an effective prevention program Contact Us – 877-565-8324 or send an email to Subject: “Workplace Violence”


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