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January 05, 2017

Preparing for the Unthinkable: Workplace Violence Exposures

Workplace violence comes in many forms, all which create nightmare scenarios, and in some cases, cost implications for employers. For example:

  • An angry gunman has stormed into the building and shot one of your workers while other employees looked on, shocked and helpless;
  • An employee has swallowed a lethal dose of prescription pills in the presence of coworkers;
  • A female employee has stumbled into a work area bruised and disheveled, collapsed at her desk, and reported she was just attacked while conducting a routine business meeting.

Any number of horrific scenarios could instantly transform your seemingly safe workplace into a danger zone. Of course, you’ll notify the authorities and take whatever steps you can to tend to the injured, protect your employees, and deal with the crisis in the moment. But after the dust has settled, the tough questions begin. How did this happen? Were there missed warning signs? Could this have been prevented?

Workplace violence is nothing new. The issue started to gain media attention during the Post Office murders in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, nearly two million U.S. workers report being victims of workplace violence every year according to OSHA, and many more cases likely go unreported.

OSHA defines workplace violence as “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.”

What are your risk factors?

There are definitely factors that can increase the risk of violence in some workplaces, so keep these things in mind when assessing the risk to your own workplace and employees:

  • Does money change hands? If so, there’s a greater risk of violence being used to steal it. Think bank teller, convenience store clerk, or pizza delivery person.
  • Are there unstable, volatile people around? Think of a mental health worker or law enforcement officer dealing with people who might be prone to violence.
  • Is alcohol served? A person who has had too much may not be able to control him or herself and could be a danger to others.
  • Do employees work late shifts and/or in high crime areas? Both could make it more likely they’ll be victimized, especially by someone they don’t know.
  • Do employees work alone or in small groups? It’s all about safety in numbers.

What can employers do to manage these workplace violence risks?

Obviously, you can’t prevent every tragic incident. But management and employees should be encouraged to keep their eyes and ears open for possible warning signs such as increasingly belligerent or hypersensitive behavior; personality conflicts and on-the-job disputes; off-duty issues such as an employee dealing with a divorce or financial problems; or overhearing talk of violence and/or weapons. Also, if you’re not already doing so, consider taking these steps:

  • Conduct background checks
  • Require badge access other than for visitor areas or lobbies
  • Complete a workplace risk analysis/assessment to identify where you may be vulnerable
  • Provide supervisory and non-supervisory training on conflict resolution and anger management
  • Create and disseminate a clear no tolerance policy for workplace violence
  • Develop an emergency response plan to deal with workplace violence incidents

Everyone wants a safe workplace, and with the grim realities of workplace violence today, everyone needs to be vigilant. Take time to assess your worksite, incorporate workplace violence awareness and prevention training, and take advantage of resources available from OSHA and other government agencies. By being proactive, you and your staff will be much better prepared if the unthinkable happens.

To learn more about protecting your business, contact the business insurance professionals at Heffernan Insurance Brokers today. 

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