Workplace violence is a subject that most people do not like to discuss. After all, most times when workplace incidents make the news, they are shocking and frightening, and it’s simply easier to say “That will never happen here.” Unfortunately, that’s not always true, as nearly 2 million workers reported having been victims of workplace violence each year, with even more going unreported.
Federal laws only provide general guidance, in the form of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which requires employers to provide a safe workplace. While workplace violence is not always preventable, there are proactive steps you can take to reduce the risks and hopefully prevent a situation before it becomes dangerous, including:
- Training managers and supervisors on the early warning signs of potential violence and how to address them
- Implementing a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program
- Clearly communicating to employees that the company wants to know when there are threats or incidents, and how serious the company is about handling issues
- Making a good faith effort to investigate complaints where there is a reasonable concern that the employee’s behavior may cause harm to themselves or others
- Considering additional security measures (sign-in desk, key-card systems, increased lighting, and video surveillance)
- Identifying to all employees the contact person for communicating safety concerns or incidents
It is important to note, when preparing preventative measures, that workplace violence is not limited to employees; it also includes customers, clients and visitors.
Of course, while all of these measures will raise costs, it will likely be less expensive than the costs of a workplace violence incident. A 2006 study by Liberty Mutual reported assaults and violent acts as the 10th leading cost of non-fatal occupation injuries, at a cost of $400 million. Indirect costs, though difficult to quantify can include diverted attention and resources, loss of public trust, and reputational damage. Workplace violence can result in a number of legal actions against employers, including civil litigation, OSHA citations or fines and workers’ compensation. The key, as always, is finding a balanced approach that works for your particular business.