Everyone knows that workplace violence is a possibility regardless of industry – however, a number of recent studies point to the fact that this problem may be more severe than a lot of people likely realize. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, roughly two million American workers are the victim of workplace violence each year – and that number only includes the cases that are actually reported. As per a study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted in 2014, a massive 409 people were fatally injured in work-related attacks and other incidents – a number making up roughly 16% of the 4,821 workplace deaths during that particular year. Helping employees recognize and report suspicious or threatening behavior looks like is an important first step for a workplace violence prevention program.
Indeed, workplace violence has risen to become the third leading cause of death in a wide range of professions, including but not limited to healthcare workers, people working in education and media environments and those employed at law firms.
While it’s certainly true that technology and other physical security measures can go a long way towards creating the safest possible environment for everyone involved, your number one asset is and will always be your employees themselves. One of the best ways to help curb workplace violence is to teach people to both properly recognize and report threatening behavior that may be suspicious or otherwise threatening, stopping small problems now before they have a chance to become much bigger – and more dangerous – issues down the road.
What is Workplace Violence?
If you really want to do your part to help employees recognize and report suspicious or threatening behavior, they must first understand just how broad these terms really are in this context.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture handbook on Workplace Violence, Prevention and Response, the term “workplace violence” can be used to describe “any act of violence against persons or property, as well as threats, intimidation, harassment, or any other inappropriate, disruptive behavior that causes fear for personal safety in the workplace.”
This isn’t a concept that is limited to just employee-on-employee violence, either. It can affect anyone – including third-party contractors who may be working in a business on a temporary basis, employees from another business who come by your location, visitors, and customers who come in and out of the business on a daily basis and more.
The USDA’s handbook also outlines a number of situations that can potentially trigger or cause workplace violence. These include but are not limited to ones like:
- Anger over the loss of a job or some other type of disciplinary action.
- A resistance (or even a deeply rooted resentment) over regulatory actions, either by an employee or a customer.
- A situation where a member of the public disagrees with the policy or practice of your business.
- Violence based in intolerance or bigotry.
- Actions intended to harm or intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin or other personal characteristics and more.
These types of suspicious or threatening behavior situations can also come from anyone, anywhere at any time – be it an abusive employee or someone in a leadership position like a manager, a customer, a family member or even a total stranger.
Education is your number one asset in terms of helping employees create a safer, healthier and more productive environment – which means that the number one rule to effective threat management becomes making sure they themselves have all the information they need to make the right call at the right time.
“If You See Something, Say Something”
According to the experts at the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, one’s ability to tell the difference between threats that amount to little more than venting, potentially dangerous situations that wind up being a hoax and threats that are absolutely to be taken seriously is “part experience, part intuition and part luck.”
There ultimately isn’t much that one can do to address luck – but as far as experience and intuition are concerned, those are totally under your control and the key to empowering these qualities within your own workforce begins and ends with the proper education.
Many providers, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not only offer free workplace violence prevention programs that you can use as an ongoing educational resource to empower your employees – oftentimes these programs can be targeted toward the specific industry that you’re working in. Though there are some signs of violence or other suspicious and threatening behaviors that are universal, there are also threats specific to something like a healthcare environment that people working in a retail store wouldn’t have to worry about – and vice versa.
This level of ongoing education can not only help employees better identify institutional, environmental and even policy-based risk factors for workplace violence, but they can also teach them to be better communicators and to use teamwork for ongoing threat assessments, they can help employees better identify resources to be used to support injured workers, they can help you create prevention strategies for particular departments or employees and more.
All of these types of resources should be deployed not only for existing employees, but they should also become a part of the employee onboarding process for new hires. Likewise, employees should be required to participate in these types of programs on a regular basis – at least once a year – to help them take advantage of new techniques, identify new threats and refresh their own knowledge of occupational safety prevention techniques and best practices.
Not only should a workplace have a very clear zero-tolerance policy in place in terms of threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other types of disruptive threatening behaviors, but that policy needs to be clearly communicated to all people. The policies must be enforced and the consequences must be severe – the stakes are far too high for any other “half measures” approach.
Likewise, it is essential for there to be systems and mechanisms in place that allow employees to quickly alert security personnel and/or emergency services to severe instances of suspicious or threatening behavior that point to the fact that an act of violence may be imminent. According to one recent study, 25% of surveyed businesses say that they are totally unprepared for an active shooter incident, for example. Simply having a system in place that allows employees to quickly act on the information they have or behaviors they’ve observed will go a long way towards not only allowing them to use their experience and intuition as outlined above but potentially prevent a disaster of the highest order as well.
Don’t Be Afraid to Enlist the Help of Professionals
According to the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, one should also not be afraid to bring in outside help to help tackle employee awareness and prevention in these types of situations. Being aware of performance and or conduct issues that may seem small now, but that could also be warning signs of potential trouble, is the cornerstone of any prevention strategy. Taking the step to hire a workplace violence consultant or other security consultant therefore represents one of the best chances you have to do exactly that.
When you’re so focused on actually running a business, there are small things that could slip by your attention that could point to larger issues brewing just on the horizon. When you bring in outside assistance, these trends and patterns are more easily uncovered – putting you in a position to do something about them immediately.
According to the Department of Labor, these types of performance and conduct indicators can include things like:
- Attendance problems, including people taking excessive sick leave, excessive tardiness or certain improbably excuses for absences.
- Concentration problems, including people who are easily distracted or who often have trouble recalling instructions.
- Unusual and/or changed behaviors, including people who are suddenly prone to making inappropriate comments or throwing objects.
- Evidence that develops pointing towards possible drug or serious alcohol use and abuse.
- Evidence that develops pointing to serious stress in the personal life of one or more employees.
- Low energy, a lack of enthusiasm or the presence of despair, all of which are major signs of unshakable depression.
It’s also important to note that the presence of any or even all of these qualities doesn’t necessarily mean that a violent act is imminent. It could just mean that someone is sick, depressed, is going through a lot of stress, etc. However, they’re still critical things to watch out for within the larger context of prevention.
But regardless of the actual signs that are uncovered, the point of all this is overwhelmingly clear. If organizational leaders are in a better position to recognize these indicators through the help of someone like a security consultant, they can then more effectively communicate them to employees. Those employees then become more aware of the signs that they should be paying close attention to moving forward, which ultimately goes a long way towards an entire organization’s ability to take a more proactive approach to combating workplace violence.
Building a Safer Workplace, Together
In the end, it’s important to remember that your best chance to help create the safest possible working environment for everyone involved absolutely requires an “all hands on deck” approach to what you’re trying to accomplish. Security-conscious leadership will certainly go a long way and technological solutions like cameras, access control and others can help a great deal, but it is ultimately everyone’s responsibility to not only be alert for the possibility that workplace violence might occur, but to also report those potential issues to people in a position to actually do something about them.
Ultimately, supervisors and other people in management positions are responsible for prevention, assessment, reporting and response. Therefore, the duty falls to every employee in a business to be alert and forward-thinking, providing those in higher positions with the actionable information they need to take immediate action should conditions escalate beyond what anyone is comfortable with.
Can we help you train and protect your employees?
Bryghtpath has developed the workplace violence prevention programs, threat management teams, and crisis plans for many Fortune 500 organizations. Our firm has more than a century of experience in developing actionable plans to help prepare organizations for the unexpected.
Our expertise includes crisis communications and emergency procedures – we’d love to help you develop a program, train your team, and take other preparedness steps that improves the safety and security of your workplace.