Workplace Violence Prevention News

Preventing Violence in the Workplace - Webinar

Monday, April 15, 2013

In a recent webinar, Preventing Workplace Violence, presented by Hector Alvarez and HR That Works, the following points were discussed:

The amount of workplace violence is considerable.

  • It is the second leading cause of death in the workplace (BLS)
  • Almost 2,000,000 US workers experienced violence at work in 2011; each work day there are an estimated 16,400 threats and 723 workers are attacked and harassed (Bureau of Justice)
  • The average cost of a single workplace homicide incident is $800,000 (NIOSH)
  • The average cost to American business each year is estimated at $36 billion (Bureau of Justice)
  • Jury awards for inadequate security suits brought against employers average $1.2 million nationwide with settlements averaging $600,000 (Family Violence Prevention Fund)
There are four basic types of workplace:
  • Criminals/Strangers - includes violent acts by criminals who have no other connection with the workplace, but enter to commit robbery or another crime.
  • Customers/Clients - includes violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or any others for whom an organization provides services.
  • Employees/Coworkers - consists of acts committed by a present or former employee.
  • Related Parties/Personal Relations - includes violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn’t work there, but has a personal relationship with an employee—for example, an abusive spouse or domestic partner.

The five D’s of security are: deter, detect, deny, delay and defend.

Security considerations:
  • Restricting public access to employee work areas
  • Visitor screening and check-in
  • Providing adequate lighting and maintaining landscape to limit criminal opportunities
  • Ensure that physical controls are in working order (doors, locks, alarms)
  • Use of access control systems and ID badges for staff
  • Use of surveillance systems
  • Security Officer patrols of facility
  • Informing staff of known threats
  • Provide multiple methods for staff to report concerns
  • Maintaining a strong relationship with local law enforcement
Warning signs of potential violence:
  • Unresolved grievances
  • A history of violent behavior
  • Excessive displays of temper - aggressive outbursts
  • Ominous fascination with weapons - bringing weapons to work
  • Intimidating others and/or instilling fear in peers and supervisors
  • Expressing extreme depression and/or anger
  • Bizarre comments or behavior, especially if it includes violent content or ideation
  • Drug or alcohol abuse problem
  • Holding grudges - inability to handle criticism, habitually making excuses and blaming others
  • Rigid and inflexible
  • An obsessive involvement with a job - no outside interests
  • Changing events that generate additional levels of stress
Responding to violence:
  • ACCEPT WHATS HAPPENED - The "bad guy" has already made up his mind.  You are playing catch up!
  • DECIDE TO SURVIVE - A survivor’s mindset is the key to making it through an incident.
  • MOVE! - Create as much TIME, DISTANCE and MATERIAL between you and the violence.

 

For additional information, please consider the following resources:

 

Above content contributed by Alvarez Associates (www.workviolenceprevention.com).

 

Asking for Help

 Of course one of the challenges faced by employers is knowing when to ask for help when dealing with aberrant employee behavior. My belief system is this: It's better to ask for help and perhaps face a privacy or disability type claim than it is to suffer or allow someone else to suffer an act of violence. What you don't want to have is any sense of regret that you didn't do all that you could do under the circumstances.

Many employers, including even owners at a company, are afraid to confront a potentially violent employee because they don't want to become a target of their wrath. This is one reason why you rely on experts like Hector as well as your local police department. It's probably good idea to find a local workplace violence expert in your area to do a risk assessment so that you know you've done what you can to prevent these concerns and you have a contact in place should you need it. Understand this: OSHA has made this one of their priorities. Your company will be exposed to regulatory fines and penalties as well as civil lawsuits and risk of business failure should you be caught in one of these tragedies.

 It's also important to understand the law in your state. HR That Works members are encouraged to go to the State Laws Summary page and then search for the word violence. For example, in California there are specific statutes aimed at workplace violence including the ability to obtain a temporary restraining order against a potential threatening person. Lastly, one the greatest times of concern is when you are terminating someone. Hector and I both agree that it's best to do it midweek and to treat them with respect, just as you would want a loved one to be treated, even if they were and insubordinate, recalcitrant, and unlikable employee.

 

A Dozen Steps to Creating a Workplace Violence Program

 

  1. Obtain leadership commitment – There is no viable program without buy-in from the top. This buy-in should include the assignment of responsibility for carrying out the program at a senior management level.
  2. Assemble a violence prevention team – This should include your safety officer, HR team, facilities manager, IT manager, insurance broker, lawyer, risk manager, local law enforcement, and violence expert.
  3. Create a plan, policies, and documents – This plan should conform to safety guidelines promulgated by OSHA and NIOSH. Adopt policies and protocols for assessment, identification prevention and response to threats of violence and be updated on an annual basis.
  4. Conduct an environmental assessment – See the assessment checklist which identifies various vulnerabilities that should be considered in an effort to prevent violence in the workplace.
  5. Conduct an employee survey – Unfortunately, most people tend to want to ignore, bury, or deny an exposure to activities that make may be precursors to violent activity. You should conduct the survey on at least an annual basis.
  6. Investigate any exposures of concerns – It may be a note put on the bulletin board or a statement that was grumbled by a disgruntled employee. When investigating any matter, think like a lawyer and look for the facts, documents, and witnesses that relate to the concern. Make sure to document your efforts.
  7. Engage in risk mitigation efforts – Whether that means video monitoring, check-in procedures, or the like, the question is how can you make the workplace environment safer from threats of potential violence?
  8. Train your managers and employees – Make sure your management team knows what to do in an emergency including one that deals with violence in the workplace. Make sure to solicit input from managers and employees during this training for constant improvement.
  9. Reporting – Make sure all managers and employees know their obligation to report.Make sure they're not concerned about reporting something “so minor” that they shouldnot have said anything. Remind them that it is better to be safe than sorry. Normal reporting process where feasible.
  10. Document your efforts – Whether it is the development of a plan, training, incidences, or responses make sure to document your efforts.
  11. Lastly, react to threats of violence – Know who your triage team is; know your evacuation routes and communication structures.
  12. Post-violence recovery – Manage the traumatic nature of such an incident. See to it that employees get any necessary counseling. Ask how you can prevent similar incidences from occurring in the future. Be prepared to grieve And then move on.

 

 

When to be concerned about an employee or third-party

 

  1. Their actions – There are many indications that are easy to see after-the-fact. However, we should be on guard to any tipping point activities that could be a precursor to violent acts. Perhaps there is a change in attendance patterns, attitude, dress, or actions. Perhaps an employee is yelling, banging things, breaking things, and otherwise acting highly emotionally. They may be stalking, bullying, or a troublemaker. At the other end of the spectrum they can be an extreme loner, very withdrawn, etc. Always be concerned with people have an obsession with guns, paramilitary magazines, violence in the media or on TV, and especially where this person knows or brandishes any type of weapons.
  2. Their words – Threats of any kind should be taken seriously. Excessive swearing, profanity and other verbal tirades. Employees who express panic, paranoia, conspiracy, or seem to hold grudges should also be monitored.
  3. High stress positions – Fact is, you can squeeze people only so much. Are they working long hours, with heavy deadlines, with no breaks and excessive demands? Do they have post-traumatic stress syndrome from past high stress positions, whether in the military or in their youth?
  4. They are medicated – Whether legally or otherwise. Know your state laws regarding random drug testing (most do not allow it any longer) and make sure to train your managers on identifying “reasonable suspicion” of drug or alcohol use. Remember that current drug or alcohol use is not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and that some states also protect employees would ask for help about this type of problem before they get busted for it.
  5. Terminations and other major changes – Any emotionally-charged events can trigger violence. One reason why we never encourage managers to make single person terminations. Always have somebody else with you in the room. The failure to get a promotion, a transfer, or demotion are also major change activities which could generate violent conduct. Employees can also have their own personal problems such as financial difficulties or health difficulties which can trigger a violent emotional response.
  6. Conflicts – Whether at work or home. Much workplace violence is brought upon an employee by a friend, relative, or loved one. Be particularly sensitive about people going through divorces, relationship breakups, or other desperate emotional situations. It may be that they come from a dysfunctional family background where there either was or continues to be abuse.
  7. Media coverage – The copycat syndrome is well known in this area. Be particularly sensitive on days following publicized incidences of violence.
  8. Organizing activities – While may not be as blatantly brutal as it was 50 years ago, unionizing campaigns are very polarizing events that can break out in conflict and violence.
  9. An employee feels trapped and has no outs – If an employee thinks that you don't care about them, it can justify in their mind doing anything to you. This can be true at the customer service counter, or after a heated telephone conversation. Very simply, for somebody doesn't feel that you care about them and they don't see any outs, they can turn villainous with accompanying violence.
  10. Lastly, remember this: Where there is smoke there is fire. Never underestimate potential threat or concern. The last thing you want to do is live with regret because you didn't do what you could have done to prevent violence.

 

If you ever have a question, please do not hesitate to use the HR That Works Hotline, contact

Hector Alvarez, or a member of the Worklaw® Network.

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