Violence is a risk in any workplace. Acts of violence can cause harm to workers, affect a company’s reputation, and impact expenses and profits. Implementing a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program is essential to mitigate the risks unexpected violence can create.
The goal of a workplace violence prevention program is prevention and not reaction. Many times, organizations rely on law enforcement to prevent violent actions. But they’re called in after an event happened or has already started. By this time, it is a reaction and not prevention.
Preventing workplace violence requires controls and alert systems to be in place well before an unexpected act of violence or an escalation of events. When implemented correctly, a workplace violence prevention program will proactively reduce the risk of violence in the work environment, including off-site work environments.
The Role Safety Leaders Can Plan in Workplace Violence Prevention
Companies should leverage their safety leaders when developing a workplace violence prevention program. This will reduce the costs of developing the program and will increase its feasibility. Safety leaders typically have a keen understanding of not just the business's operations, but the people on the front line of those operations.
In addition, safety leaders are uniquely skilled at mitigating hazards and proactively preventing incidents. The skills needed to develop workplace violence prevention programs are similar to those in safety management. Hazards need to be identified, mitigation controls implemented, and an observation process in place to ensure it’s working.
Safety leaders can partner with security experts to create a workplace violence prevention program that’s a perfect fit for their organization.
Six Steps to a Workplace Violence Prevention Program
A workplace violence prevention program should be multifaceted. It’s not just a written policy that sits in a company’s policy library. It needs to be a combination of assessments, inspections, policies, procedures, training, and drills. The goal is to be ready when an unexpected act of violence happens so that all workers know what to do to prevent harm to themselves, others, and the company.
1. Assess Your Workplace for Workplace Violence Hazards
When conducting a hazard assessment in your workplace, also look for violence hazards in each of the four categories of workplace violence: employee-on-employee, partnership, customer/client, and criminal. During inspections of the workplace or off-site locations ask the following questions:
- What would happen if employees had a heated argument in this environment?
- When employees have issues outside of work, how would they inadvertently be presented at work?
- If an angry customer came on-site, what is the worst they could do? Who and what do they have access to?
- What criminal activity risks are present or possible?
List all the possibilities on the hazard assessment so that each can be mitigated and the risk reduced.
2. Secure Workplaces are the First Line of Defense Against Workplace Violence
Regardless of the property value or the value of the materials in a workplace, an essential element in preventing workplace violence is the security of the work site. Many violent events are the result of opportunity and easy access. Having a secure worksite will deter would-be assailants from taking the risk.
When considering how to secure the workplace, think beyond alarm systems and security cameras. Both of these systems are beneficial, but they usually don’t come into play until after an event has happened. Although, they can’t be discounted completely as they can be a deterrent against workplace violence. Assailants may not take action if they know their activities are being recorded or an alarm may sound.
A larger consideration should be put on the perimeter of the workplace as well as all entry and exit points. Having only a couple of ways to enter a worksite helps to control access while having several exit points allows for safety in an emergency. Controlled entry points allow organizations to further prevent access to employees or the work site.
3. Create a Workplace Prevention Policy
An administrative control of workplace violence is having a policy that details the company’s expectations and procedures. This should include all the processes in place to prevent violence, such as assessments, inspections, security, and hiring and termination practices.
For each identified possible act of violence, the policy should list the expected actions to be taken with a quick and easy way to access the procedures during an emergency event. For example:
- When a customer starts yelling
- When employees get into an argument as well as when there’s a physical altercation
- Receiving threats both in person and over the phone
- When an employee reports violence issues outside of work
- When a lone worker feels unsafe or threatened
4. Train Employees on Workplace Violence Prevention
All employees need to be trained on the company’s policy and procedures regarding workplace violence. This training should be conducted prior to entering the work environment, but it should be repeated regularly.
Always include drills, role-playing, or tabletop exercises in the training. This is the most effective type of training. When practiced regularly, employees will be prepared to handle violent events when they happen.
In emergencies, a well-trained employee will have the skills and capacity to act. Training prevents them from freezing in a bad situation and allows them to fall back on the processes they were trained on.
5. Be Aware of Inter-company Issues
Having positive relationships with all the employees in the organization is crucial to being aware of any possible employee-on-employee or partnership workplace violence issues. When employees are comfortable speaking with the management team, they will be more apt to share issues they are having within the organization as well as outside work.
Companies need to be aware of disagreements between employees so they can intervene before it leads to violence. They also need to know if there is anything outside of work that has the possibility of spilling into the workplace; such as domestic disputes or child custody issues.
Lastly, when employees are terminated, companies need to be aware of any overly agitated reaction so that prevention measures can be put into place.
6. Don’t Wait for Something to Happen, Take Action
One of the biggest failures of many workplace violence prevention programs is a lack of action being taken at the early warning signs of future violence. Ignoring the signs and waiting until something happens to take action can lead to poor outcomes.
Instead of being concerned about overreacting, the most successful violence prevention programs intervene when they notice the signs. When done consistently, it becomes a benefit to employees and shows that the organization cares about their well-being.
Early warning signs of workplace violence behavior include:
- Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
- Unexplained absenteeism, change in behavior, or decline in job performance
- Depression, withdrawal, or suicidal comments
- Resistance to changes at work or persistent complaints about unfair treatment
- Violation of company policies
- Emotional responses to criticism, mood swings
Workplace violence prevention programs are more challenging when your workforce is remote. New guidance from the National Safety Council includes utilizing technology in workplace violence prevention training as well as worker safety. Such devices include proximity sensors, downed worker devices, and remote access devices like SolusGuard’s wearable panic button or lone worker safety app.