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A look at workplace violence

Warning signs and prevention strategies

Photo: ljubaphoto/iStockphoto

Engage employees

NIOSH encourages employers to provide training on strategies to recognize, avoid and respond to situations with the potential for violence.

Pobirsky said violence is more likely in workplaces with managers who tolerate a toxic work environment amid a climate with constant uncertainty, inadequate security measures and no workplace violence prevention program.

In contrast, workplaces with training and prevention programs, established disciplinary processes, and managers who understand and act on concerning behaviors are less likely to deal with acts of violence.

Britt encourages employers to act on threats or offhand comments, even if an individual says they were just kidding.

“Statements of intent that are threatening to any type of violent act, whether it be a joke or not, need to be dealt with immediately,” he said.

Commitment from management and worker involvement are crucial.

“If your employees aren’t engaged, you’re not engaging them, they’re not going to tell you the issues that come up and you’re not going to solve them before it’s too late,” Pobirsky said.

OSHA’s perspective on workplace violence

Although OSHA doesn’t have an established standard regarding workplace violence, the agency offers online resources related to risk factors, workplace violence prevention programs and training.

OSHA recommends workplace violence prevention programs:

  • Establish a clear policy for workplace violence, verbal and nonverbal threats, and related actions.
  • Ensure no worker who reports or experiences workplace violence faces reprisal.
  • Encourage workers to promptly report incidents and suggest ways to reduce or eliminate risks.
  • Require incident records to assess risk and measure progress.
  • Create a comprehensive plan for maintaining security in the workplace, including establishing a liaison with law enforcement or others who can assist with workplace violence mitigation.

Go to osha.gov/workplace-violence to learn more.

The National Safety Council – in its Workplace Violence: Using Technology to Reduce Risk report – says that, in addition to mitigating the risk for violence, prevention plans also may produce:

  • Increased feelings of safety
  • A rise in reporting confidence
  • Higher levels of job satisfaction
  • Reductions in insurance costs
  • Strengthening of organizational safety culture

Leveraging technology

In its report, NSC suggests employers incorporate technology to help prevent workplace hazards that may create a hostile climate. 

The council highlights a number of wearable technologies that can monitor employees working alone or in potentially dangerous situations.

One example allows workers to use a panic or duress button that sends discrete, SOS alerts when emergency situations arise.

Additional technologies, such as intelligent case management and digital floor plan mapping, aim to help employers track workplace incidents and analyze trends.

“Most every ‘place’ is somebody’s workplace,” NSC says. “So, whether you are a patron or an employee, it’s important to be alert.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

“Nearly 1 in 5 Americans may experience some form of mental health condition each year,” the Department of Labor says. “For many of these individuals (and many without mental health conditions), work is key to their health, contributing to a sense of purpose and well-being. This is why it’s important that employers understand how to foster a mental health-friendly work culture.”

Go to dol.gov/agencies/odep/program-areas/mental-health for more information, including downloadable videos, posters and guides.

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