Protecting against the broad spectrum of workplace violence

A look at the steps employers should take to mitigate their risks


While news coverage of workplace shooting incidents defines the public consciousness of what "workplace violence" is, the true definition of workplace violence is far broader. Though mass shootings represent the extreme apex of vicious acts, workplace violence is also defined as threats and other intimidation or harassing behavior directed toward a person at work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 564 work-related homicides occurred each year in the United States from 2004 to 2008. The BLS reports that "most shootings occurred in the private sector (86 percent) whereas 14 percent of shootings occurred in government. Of the shootings within the private sector, 88 percent occurred within service-providing industries, mostly in trade, transportation and utilities."

Data on lesser forms of workplace intimidation is also troubling. A national survey on workplace bullying from Zogmy International found that about 54 million Americans report being bullied at work with an estimated 43,800 acts of harassment, bullying and other threatening behavior occurring in the workplace every day.

In addition to the societal impact of workplace violence, business leaders understand the impact that a workplace shooting could have on a brand's reputation as well as the legal costs and declining employee morale and productivity that follow. However, all bullying behavior saps company efficiency, making a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program a bottom-line benefit to the organization.

The Institute of Management & Administration's (IOMA) "2011 Report on Workplace Violence: Complete Guide to Managing Today's and Tomorrow's Threats," defines workplace violence events as generally falling into one of four types of situations which include:

- Criminal: "When the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or employees and is committing a crime in conjunction with violence."

- Customer or client: "When the perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business."

- Co-worker: "When the perpetrator is an employee of the business, past employee or contractor who works as a temporary employee of the business."

- Domestic violence: "When the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim."

All of the scenarios occur frequently in workplaces across the country, and the challenge of managing potential workplace violence goes far beyond any simple definitions of terms.

According to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, more than 70 percent of American workplaces do not have a formal program or policy in place to address workplace violence. To successfully battle workplace violence, organizations should develop an internal risk assessment and prevention plan. Workplace violence prevention plans cannot afford to be stagnant as the regulatory environment evolves and best practices continually advance.

One of the most important things businesses can do is get in contact with local law enforcement agencies and their security team to work together on preventative planning so that everyone knows what to expect and what to do if workplace harassment or violence occurs. The integrated training and resources of the public and private security sectors aids in the facilitation of management training to help recognize the behaviors and symptoms of disgruntled workers, which can lead to harassment, bullying and deadly active shooter scenarios.

In addition to building those critical relationships, it is also essential that all employees understand that they play an active role in workplace violence prevention. Education and awareness are critical parts of this effort. The daily interactions of co-workers weigh heavily on the ability to identify potential issues before they become disasters. Your employees must be aware of the warning signs and know where to go for help.

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