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Workplace Violence Prevention

Workplace Violence Prevention: Tips for Frontline Employees

Dealing with workplace violence-related issues begins first by understanding workplace violence and its potential causes. According to the Department of Human Resource Management’s Workplace Violence Prevention policy, workplace violence is defined as any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the workplace by employees or third parties.

It also includes homicide, assault and battery, harassment, threats of violence, threats of suicide, rape, road rage and psychological trauma as a result of a workplace violence event.

What causes workplace violence and how do we recognize potentially violent individuals? There are many reasons why individuals may act violently in the workplace. Some triggers that cause individuals to act violently in the workplace include terminations, layoffs, domestic issues, work related conflicts, and high levels of stress. There may be some behavioral indicators that will give clues, but in many situations, the victims never see it coming. The best way to protect frontline employees is through planning, documentation and communication.

In FY 2002, the Commonwealth of Virginia experienced 2,241 claims relating to workplace violence at an estimated cost of $1,833,393. The cost of workplace violence, however, is more than just dollars and cents. Decreased or lost productivity; medical, legal, overtime costs; increased workload for co-workers; employee counseling; and a tarnished public image add an incalculable amount to the overall cost.

What risks do employees face?

Violence by strangers may be random, depending on the surrounding environment of the agency. Overall, the type of risk for the agency depends on the type of agency and agency clientele. Frontline employees may be exposed to four categories of perpetrators: strangers, clients/customers/former clients/former customers, employees/former employees, and relatives/friends.

Some risks, however, appear to be more common than others. Examples include:

  • Violence by employees or former employees because of:
    • Ineffective termination techniques-studies show that people were more prone to act violently not because they were fired but because of the way they were fired
    • Inconsistent disciplinary procedures
    • Information transfer breakdown-not communicating vital information to front-line employees immediately regarding terminated employees who may no longer access the facility
  • Domestic violence because of
    • Unstable personal lives
    • Office romance
    • Stalking and obsessive behaviors

Co-workers and frontline employees are sometimes the first to identify a situation or behavior that is on the verge of becoming violent. An effective control plan includes a means of reporting and investigating potentially violent individuals.

What can you do? Have a plan!

  • Develop and enforce a workplace violence prevention policy.
  • Have adequate security measures in place.
  • Conduct periodic risk and hazard assessments.
  • Don’t over-rely on physical security measures.
  • Reconfigure office spaces to make it easier for an employee who is threatened to escape to a safe area.
  • Have visitor procedures in place.
  • Notify frontline employees immediately of terminations.
    • Establish a list of “restricted visitors” for previous employees, relatives and patients with a history of violence.
  • Enforce the importance of privacy and discretion with frontline employees regarding victims of domestic violence.
    • Limit the information given about victims of violence.
  • Have specialized training for frontline employees.
  • Routinely drill according to what you want to happen in a violent situation.
  • Form a team to evaluate the policy and the outcome of each drill and improve where needed.
  • Have employees report every incident.

Tips for handling potentially violent individuals

When dealing with potentially violent individuals and escalating situations, train frontline employees to de-escalate the situation by using the following strategies:

  • Stay calm
  • Listen attentively
  • Make eye contact
  • Be courteous and patient and try to maintain control of the situation
  • Signal a co-worker or supervisor that help is needed
    • Activate a duress alarm
    • Use signal or code words
  • Walk away from the person under the pretense of “getting assistance”
  • If there is a weapon:
    • Never attempt to disarm a person
    • Watch for an opportunity to escape to a safe area
    • Notify local law enforcement
  • Threats by phone:
    • Write down exactly what is said
    • Pay attention to background noises and note details about the caller’s voice
    • Ask the caller for important information like name, location and telephone number
    • Keep the person on the phone as long as possible

Resources for assistance:

There are many different resources employees can use either before a situation becomes violent or to assist with recovery and transition after an incident has occurred. This information should be readily available to all employees in the event of an emergency.

  • Employee Assistance Program
  • Local law enforcement
  • Community resources
  • Other agencies in the vicinity

Utilize all of the resources and techniques discussed and contact the Department of Human Resource Management Office of Workers’ Compensation’s Loss Control Section at 804-225-2126 for additional assistance and resources.

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