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Workplace Violence ? Planning for the Unknown

For most small businesses, employers have enough on their plates when it comes to managing daily operations. But what about planning for the unknown? The SHRM Workplace Violence Survey, published in 2012, found that over one-third (36 percent) of organizations reported incidents of workplace violence. While you can’t predict if something terrible will happen, you can be prepared with an emergency action plan. If not, the impact to your business could be catastrophic, both in terms of employee productivity and costs to your business.

What is workplace violence?

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.

Who is at risk?

Nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year, while many more cases go unreported. Workplace violence can occur anywhere and at anytime. There are some factors that increase risk of violence such as exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence. Higher risk workers include delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel, and those who work alone or late at night, especially in areas with high crime rates.

?Employer Obligations

According to the? Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), ?[n]o federal law explicitly establishes an employer?s duty to prevent or remedy workplace violence against employees. However, employers must comply with the general duty clause [Section 5(a)(1)] of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which states that each employer must furnish a place of employment that is ?free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.??

Planning and Prevention

One of the best protections employers can offer employees is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. The policy should cover all employees, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel. The policy can take the form of a separate workplace violence prevention program or can be incorporated into an injury and illness prevention program, employee handbook, or procedure manual. It is critical to ensure that all employees know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly. The policy should also list a designated point of contact to report erratic behavior or a domestic violence threat. Set up procedures to handle complaints impartially, confidentially and quickly. These should include measures to prevent any recurrence of harassment and other types of workplace violence. It is critical to ensure that the victim feels safe against retaliation and has the right, if needed, to be represented by an independent, qualified investigator.

While there?s no way to prevent an act of violence from occurring, there are some preventive measures you can take to minimize your risk:

  • Think ?security.?Limit access if appropriate, use security cameras, and if you use security guards, make sure they are well trained.
  • Hire smartly.Performing background checks on job applicants may help to avoid problem employees.
  • Do risk assessment.Periodically revisit what?s going on in your company?your staff, your security measures, your neighborhood?s activities.
  • Organize awareness and training sessions. Take time to organize and provide access to awareness and training sessions on the prevention of workplace violence. Train managers and supervisors on the early warning signs of potential violence and how to address those warning signs.
  • Create an emergency action plan.When something occurs, make sure employees know what to do.

SMART Tip:?A well-written and implemented Workplace Violence Prevention Program, combined with engineering and administrative controls and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence. Contact the professionals at The AR Group if you need help drafting and implementing such a policy.