Workplace violence is a sad reality that occurs all too often today. The Department of Labor says that approximately two million people are victims of non-fatal workplace violence annually. Violence is also a leading  cause of fatal injuries, with several hundred workplace homicides occurring each year.

Violence at work falls on a spectrum ranging from verbal abuse and bullying right up to homicides and active shooter crises. The type and frequency of violent events is often related to the nature of work. For example, retail work is subject to robberies and violence from angry customers; hospitals, health care facilities, and social services face an increasing risk of violence from patients or their families; and police officers and first responders encounter violence frequently in the course of their jobs. But violence can occur in any workplace at all, even seemingly safe environments. One common source of work violence is domestic violence that spills over into the workplace.

Besides the toll that work violence takes on the health and safety of workers, it can have a significant impact on employee morale and the company’s bottom line. That’s why it’s crucial for HR managers to take a proactive approach to workplace violence prevention and emergency preparedness. We’ll explore what HR can do to prevent workplace violence. .

Violence prevention

Keeping employees safe while on the job is not just an aspiration, it’s the law. Under the OSH act, employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace. (See a summary of key employer responsibilities.)

Here are steps that employers and HR managers can take to help prevent work violence:

  • Foster a positive work culture that emphasizes respect, communication, and teamwork. This can help prevent conflicts and promote a supportive and safe work environment. It’s also important to convey zero tolerance for work violence. Creating such a culture is not a once-and-done thing, it requires commitment and reinforcement from the senior-most leaders in the organization, as well as an ongoing focus from HR, supervisors, and managers at all levels.
  • Develop and implement policies and procedures that prioritize employee safety. HR should collaborate with managers to develop a plan for handling situations that could lead to violence, including guidelines on how to handle conflicts, harassment, threats, and troublesome behaviors. Specify actions that will occur for policy violations. See our prior post: Workplace violence policies and procedures: Best practices.
  • Communicate expectations to employees. Expectations about a respectful workplace and policies about zero tolerance for violence should be communicated to all employees as part of new hire orientation, posted in public places, and reviewed annually. Protocols for reporting and investigating incidents of violence or threats of violence should also be communicated to employees and regularly reviewed and updated. Be sure to also communicate any emergency response plans, including evacuation routes and crisis communication plans.
  • Train managers and employees. Employers should provide training on recognizing potential warning signs for violence and how to recognize and respond to potential acts of violence. This training should include information on de-escalation techniques, conflict resolution, and how to report concerns to management. See: Tips from an Expert: Warning Signs of Workplace Violence
  • Address problematic behaviors swiftly: Employers should take action to address any problematic behaviors exhibited by employees, such as bullying, aggression, or harassment. This could involve coaching, counseling, or disciplinary action, depending on the severity of the behavior. Follow through on any disciplinary actions specified in your workplace violence policies. Planning terminations that involve potentially violent employees
    Offer mental health support. Employers should provide support and resources to employees who may be experiencing stress, mental health issues, or personal problems that could lead to violent behavior. This support could include access to counseling services, employee assistance programs (EAPs), or other resources. But it’s not enough to offer these resources, it’s important to issue frequent reminders of availability, plus train managers how to suggest or refer to the EAP.
  • Screen job applicants. Employers should screen job applicants carefully to identify any history of violent behavior or criminal activity that could pose a risk to the workplace. This screening could include background checks, reference checks, and behavioral assessments.
  • Strengthen physical plant security measures. Employers should enhance security measures, such as installing security cameras, alarms, and access control systems. Develop policies around visitors, such as sign-in sheets. Consider hiring security personnel or contracting with a security company to provide on-site security.
  • Develop a crisis plan for responding to emergencies. Your organization should have a crisis management and crisis response plan in place for any type of emergency you may experience – a natural disaster, a fire, an active shooting event, an accident  A crisis management team should be identified, a communication plan in place, and training/communication of employees for crisis preparation, Your insurance company might have some good risk management resources to help. Here are a few good resources: Preparedness Planning for Your Business; Hubspot: 10 Crisis Communication Plan Examples (and How to Write Your Own); and Loss Prevention Magazine: 7 Steps to Implementing a Workplace Violence Response Plan.

Additional Resources

Resources from ESI EAP

  • Mental Health Counseling & Coaching – 24-7 telephonic access to Masters and Ph.D. level clinical counselors.
  • Training for managers and employees – ESI offers thousands of online trainings, including courses on cultivating a respectful workplace, harassment prevention, bullying prevention, effective communication, conflict management and resolution, anger management, and more.
  • Self-Help Resources – Member employees can explore thousands of articles, videos, and links to self-help resources on  intimate partner or family violence, conflict management, anger management, and more.
  • Trauma Response Services – ESI has trained counselors and other certified personnel ready to respond to the needs of your organization should any of your personnel experience a traumatic situation at work. Counselors include grief and trauma specialists as well as team members certified in basic and advanced critical incident stress management. Responses include on-scene deployment, telephonic counseling and private counseling as well as group debriefings.

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