How to Prevent Violence in the WorkPlace

Julie Shenkman
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According to experts from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than two million American workers are involved in incidents of workplace violence annually. If you are a member of the human resources team, you have the important responsibility of developing policies related to this sensitive topic. To improve outcomes, familiarize yourself with the risk factors for workplace violence, and make a serious effort to implement some of the most effective prevention tactics.

Before implementing workplace violence prevention policies, it's important to understand the risk factors for certain workers. For example, employees who work with money have a higher risk of being robbed or assaulted. Those who work in a mental-health facility or correctional facility may frequently come into contact with people who exhibit violent behaviors. Working alone is another risk factor for workplace violence because employees working by themselves don't have anyone to help them if a customer becomes irate or decides to use physical force. Some occupations also have higher rates of workplace deaths caused by violence. They include top executives, health care practitioners, retail sales workers and food preparation workers.

One way to prevent workplace violence is to establish a zero-tolerance policy for all workers, vendors and clients. If one worker threatens another with physical violence, a verbal warning isn't going to cut it. The employee should be terminated immediately and escorted out of the building by a trained security professional. If you have to terminate an employee for making threats, deactivate the worker's identification badge immediately to limit access to the building. Should a vendor or client threaten violence, the perpetrator should be banned from the premises, and the proper authorities should be contacted. If you want to continue doing business with a vendor, be sure to report the dangerous behavior, and ask for another representative to service your account.

Conducting a site audit is another good workplace violence prevention tactic because it helps you identify and address weaknesses. Review employee work schedules to determine if you have any employees working alone or late at night. If you don't already have a night security guard, consider hiring one to help protect employees who work third shift. Assess the work environment to determine if there are any problems that might raise the risk of workplace violence. For example, is the lock on the front door of the building broken? Do employees who work late at night have a safe place to go in the event of a robbery or other incident? Try to conduct an audit through the eyes of an employee so you don't miss any potential problems.

Workplace violence is a serious problem in the United States, but HR professionals have the power to reduce violence perpetrated by employees, customers and vendors. Start by assessing your company's risk factors and conducting a site audit. Then, draft no-tolerance policies that outline exactly what managers and supervisors should do if someone makes threats or behaves in a violent manner.


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