In any situation that may be detrimental to the company, the first course of action is to prevent the situation from happening. After workplace violence occurs the damage can be steep. The company may lose employees due to injuries and safety concerns, while also increasing financial risk for injury compensation, legal services and other associated costs.
The most proven method in preventing workplace violence is to conduct a risk assessment. The base definition for risk assessment is to provide a “systematic examination of work activities to determine if there are any hazards that are likely to expose workers to the threat of harm or injury.” In the case of workplace violence the “hazard” can be seen as any troubled employee or objects within the workplace that can be used as a weapon.
There are three risk assessment steps for workplace violence prevention. The employer needs to:
- Be able to identify the nature of workplace violence and the potential for harm.
- Be aware of what factors within the office contribute to an increased exposure to potential workplace violence.
- Be prepared to take necessary measures to reduce, manage or eliminate any of the potential hazards involved in workplace violence.
The first step deals more in understanding than in action. Before an accurate risk assessment can be conducted, the employer first must be knowledgeable with all the warning signs associated with these occurrences.
A number of traits can be seen as a precursor to more violent behaviors:
- Does the employee blame others for personal issues
- Deterioration of job performance or sudden change of behavior
- The employee may make a statement wishing harm upon their supervisors or others
- An employee talking to oneself
- Financial issues compacted due to not receiving a promotion or pay raise
Secondly, it is critical that the employer, or person conducting the risk assessment, become familiar with the elements or conditions in a poor work environment that may lead to a workplace violence situations. It may sound strange to focus on the work environment rather than its employees; however, there are several factors that can lead to increased chance of a violent attack:
- The workplace is properly lit and visible to others in the area. The number of access points in an environments are reduced within National fire Associaton codes. The goal is to limit the ease of a non-worker entering a workplace
- The security system monitors have devices to prevent intruders or to assist in identifying perpetrators
- The distance between an office and where employees park their vehicles is as short as possible. If there is landscaping in the parking lot, tree canopy might need to be lifted and shrubs removed or trimmed.
Lastly, there will come the time when the goal is to prevent a situation from escalating further. This is the stage of the risk assessment in which the employer must attempt to reduce, manage or eliminate any of the potential hazards involved in workplace violence. In dealing with disgruntled employees one proven method is the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). What began as a program for addiction management, the EAP has expanded to include many services. Reducing workplace violence is one an area of concern that can be address through the use of counseling and consultation.
The standard EAP process works as follows:
- Diagnosis: The EAP will attempt to find the real issue bothering the employee.
- Treatment: Therapy is provided to the best of staff member’s ability. If internal counseling is ineffective, the EAP may recommend outside professional assistance.
- Screening: Process of periodic examinations to monitor the reduction of aggressiveness in the employee to insure treatment is working properly.
- Prevention: Employers must emphasize to their employees the importance of finding alternative solutions in dealing with stressful situations
The above listed actions are key elements in reducing the chance of violent outbreaks. A workplace is only as safe as an employer makes it; they have the most control in managing a work environment and ensuring the safety of its employees.
Visit OSHA’s website for more information about risk factors in the workplace and how to prevent it.
Part 2 of 4 articles in the workplace violence series.
Dr. Isabel Perry prescribes solutions to reduce risk, costs and increase production for all types of organizations. Dr. Perry is an Orlando, Florida based Safety Professional with over 20 years of broad-based safety experience including: safety speaker, safety consultant, expert witness, and former safety executive at a Fortune 50 company. Her clients include many multinational firms.
Dr. Perry can be contacted at: Isabel@TheSafetyDoctor.com, or 407-291-1209.