Preparation Aids Prevention

Gun in chains

ThinkHR Chief Knowledge Officer Laura Kerekes writes a monthly “Innovative Workplace” column for Rough Notes, a publication that has been serving the insurance industry since 1878. While geared toward brokers, much of the information in her columns is applicable to human resources professionals. Enjoy her June column on workplace violence.

Incidences of workplace violence are becoming more common and are all over the news. It’s not just high-profile headline cases that are a concern—it’s happening on a smaller scale in all kinds of businesses. Threats to workplaces can take many forms, from cyberbullying and workplace harassment to physical altercations and targeted violence.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that every year nearly 2 million U.S. workers are victims of workplace violence, with a total economic cost of more than $55 billion. According to the most recent National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, violence in the workplace increased 23 percent between 2015 and 2016 to become the second-most common category of workplace fatalities, behind transportation incidents.

Assessing elements of risk that may trigger violence, along with developing a prevention plan, is critical.

While a bill has been recently introduced in Congress relating to workplace violence in the healthcare industry, and some states address workplace violence in their safety regulations, there are no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence at the federal level outside of the OSHA General Duty Clause. This clause requires employers to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm.”

If your clients experience acts of workplace violence or become aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators suggesting that the potential for violence in the workplace exists, OSHA and state programs would expect them to implement a workplace violence prevention program combined with controls and training.

The good news is, you can help arm your clients with strategies for reducing the risk of workplace violence this summer.

Prevention is key

Assessing elements of risk that may trigger violence, along with developing a prevention plan, is critical. This starts with a complete evaluation of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats as they relate to the types of risks the organization might face. A review of the company’s strategic objectives and deliverables, the resources available to employees to accomplish these deliverables, and the physical layout of the facility are important elements to include in this evaluation.

Workplace violence preparation and prevention strategies

Hire right. Your clients’ businesses may be at risk due to the actions of their employees. Advise them to make good hiring decisions by clearly defining job requirements and thoroughly evaluating applicants. They should look carefully at resumes and job applications, probe gaps in applicants’ work histories, and verify education and work experience. Encourage them to conduct reference and background checks and be consistent with all applicants throughout the hiring process. That way, they can potentially avoid bad hires or negligent hiring claims.

Set clear expectations. When employees know what is expected of them, including behaviors important to the organization and performance standards, and those expectations are consistently enforced, they may experience less work-related stress and anxiety that can lead to hostility and violent outbursts.

Nurture an inclusive company culture. Studies show that in companies where employees feel like they are a part of the business and understand how their work contributes to the organization’s success, employees are more engaged and have more trust in their leaders and co-workers. Encourage your clients to focus on an inclusive culture built on strong values and it might result in fewer accidents, less absenteeism, and reduced risk for EPLI claims or workplace violence incidents.

Establish emergency preparedness plans. Advise your clients to develop emergency plans covering human-caused emergencies such as crime and violence, as well as hazards caused by natural disasters, outbreaks of disease, and accidents.

Establish safe reporting systems. Recommend that clients establish more than one method for employees to report any type of threat or issue that makes them feel unsafe in the workplace. These systems should include clear communication to employees that everyone is responsible for workplace safety, and there will be no retaliation for reporting safety concerns.

Provide workplace wellness programs. Some safety experts suggest that companies that demonstrate their commitment to their employees’ wellbeing through comprehensive wellness programs may reduce the risk of workplace violence. The rationale is that these programs help to defuse employee stress, anxiety, and unhealthy personal behaviors that can lead to violence.

Train, train, train. Every member of the team should be trained to know what to do in each type of emergency. In the case of workplace violence prevention, encourage your clients to train employees who have contact with the public about how to defuse potentially violent situations and protect themselves. Designate management team members to receive additional training to recognize the signs of employee distress — such as physical exhaustion, missing work commitments, more time out of the office, violent outbursts, isolating themselves from co-workers, or talking about hurting themselves or others — with the proper procedures for handling those situations. Well-trained team members who react quickly can save lives.

With the proper planning, systems, communications, and training, your clients can be better prepared to prevent or lessen the threats of workplace violence.

About Laura Kerekes, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Laura Kerekes is ThinkHR’s Chief Knowledge Officer and leads the company’s human resources knowledge operations teams. She provides expertise to customers with complicated human resources and management issues, offers knowledge and guidance regarding management and HR best practices, and regularly shares her expertise through articles and webinars.