EHS Management, Emergency Preparedness and Response

Understanding—and Preventing—Workplace Violence

In 2018, it’s becoming imperative that every employer develop a comprehensive and effective workplace violence action plan, especially because the average workplace is now 18 times more likely to experience an incident of workplace violence than a fire, and active shooters are becoming more likely.

Stop Violence

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Here’s what EHS professionals need to know about workplace violence right now.

Know the Major Types of Workplace Violence

There are four major types of workplace violence that you need to know about.

  1. Criminal intent. This type of violence usually involves a criminal external to an organization that is trying to rob, vandalize, shoplift, or trespass in some way. Sometimes, such criminals can also have the objective of terrorizing an organization’s employees if they object to its work or mission.
  2. Customer or client. When customers or clients are angered or forced to wait for something in nonideal environments, they can sometimes get violent. For example, customers waiting on the tarmac in a plane they can’t leave for extended periods of time might become hostile. Or, customers who were promised something important to their livelihoods (i.e., medication or healthcare services) that wasn’t delivered as promised or on time might also become violent.
  3. Worker on worker. When employees are terminated, demoted, or otherwise treated unfairly without warning and never underwent a thorough criminal or mental health background check can sometimes get violent if they feel they were wronged.
  4. Personal relationship. When an employee is being harassed or terrorized by an abusive spouse or stalker who doesn’t work for the organization, violent situations can occur if the perpetrator is granted access into the workplace. He or she will most likely attack the employee who is central to his or her rage or obsession but can also lash out at others who get in his or her way.

Identify the Signs of Workplace Violence

Some common signs that workplace violence is occurring include but aren’t necessarily limited to:

  • Threatening behavior, such as shaking fists and throwing objects;
  • Verbal abuse and written threats with intent to harm others;
  • Acts, words, gestures of harassment and bullying, and other demeaning behavior intended to humiliate, embarrass, annoy, or scare another person; and
  • Physical attacks like shoving, kicking, hitting, etc.

Properly Assess Your Organization’s Risk for Workplace Violence

Don’t wait until your workplace experiences a grave act of violence before you act. Assess your organization’s risk for workplace violence today to mitigate the likelihood that it will occur.

Assemble a threat assessment team (TAT) or hire a trusted outside third party to assess your organization’s risk for workplace violence. Assess things like your safety policies and procedures, your building’s safety risks, how your teams log and report incidents, and those individuals who are exhibiting signs of workplace violence or who might be a high risk of experiencing workplace violence, etc.

For more information about assessing your organization’s risk for workplace violence, read this helpful post published by and this Workplace Violence Inspection Checklist originally published by the University of California, Berkley.

Workplace violence prevention plan

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It’s Important for Everyone to Debunk Common Myths About Workplace Violence

According to research, there is no evidence that workplace violence is a result of someone spontaneously “snapping” one day. In nearly every single instance of workplace violence, there are red flags and blatant signs that a person will either resort to or become a victim of workplace violence.

In addition, most occurrences of workplace violence are well-thought-out, planned, and meticulously executed toward one individual or a specific group of individuals. And while many individuals don’t think that they’re at risk for becoming victims of workplace violence and may choose to ignore common warning signs, statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Justice reveal the opposite. Its findings revealed that one in every four employees will be subjected to workplace violence at some point while on the job and that an average of 20 workers are murdered and 18,000 are assaulted while at work every single week.

Know How to Stay Compliant Regarding Workplace Violence

When learning how to develop and comply with workplace violence regulations and procedures, know what resources to consult. Here are a couple of good ones:

Know how to properly train your management teams and executive teams regarding workplace violence. Train all your employees how to be more aware of common signs of workplace violence, as well as what to do when an act of violence escalates. And make sure your policies and procedures are clear and always updated. Consult Managing the Threats of Workplace Violence for more tips and information.

Tips for Preventing and Mitigating Workplace Violence

  • Have a written plan that you share with every single employee explaining what to do in the event of a violent incident. And in that plan, be sure to explain what your organization is actively doing to help prevent incidents of workplace violence and what each employee can do to help.
  • Explain resources available to employees and constantly promote them across your organization, and offer anonymous ways for employees to report concerning behavior.
  • Provide regular training sessions about bullying and violence prevention for management teams and employees.
  • Endorse a welcoming company culture that’s inclusive and trusting, and promote safety.
  • Screen interviewees well before hiring them to know if they are highly likely to commit an act of workplace violence.

As an EHS professional, keep the information above in mind as you work to make your own workplace safer and less violent for everyone.

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