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Workplace Violence Prevention

Workplace Violence Prevention: Management’s Response

According to the General Duty Clause of the OSHA Act of 1970, employers have a responsibility to provide a workplace that is “free from recognizable hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” The General Duty Clause demands legal as well as moral responsibility from employers to protect their workers from hazards. Managers and supervisors are responsible for initiating workplace violence prevention strategies. The initial four steps to prevent workplace violence include:

1) tuning in to behavioral indicators, 2) understanding why violence occurs in the workplace, 3) understanding why isn’t reported; and, 4) establishing preventive measures.

Why does workplace violence occur?

The types of occupations affected by workplace violence are becoming more diverse. Workplace violence can affect all occupations from law enforcement to education. Managers and supervisors need to recognize the reasons why workplace violence occurs and what makes one location more vulnerable to workplace violence than another.

Potential causes of workplace violence:

  • Work-related conflict
  • Personal conflict
  • Domestic violence
  • Robbery
  • Revenge
  • Displaced anger
  • Stalker obsessions
  • Disgruntled clients
  • School-related conflicts

Workplace violence is more likely to occur in agencies that have no workplace violence policy, fail to perform background investigations, or fail to provide workplace violence training. Managers and supervisors who ignore the threat and signs of violence or employee complaints about another employee’s behavior or who terminate employees without due process may create an environment for workplace violence. Ironically, employees tend to be more upset about how they were terminated rather than the fact that they were terminated at all.

What are behavioral indicators?

Behavioral indicators are characteristics that an individual may display as a prelude to possible violence. Managers and supervisors who foster and maintain good working relationships with employees may notice when employees begin experiencing changes in behavior.

Behavioral Indicators:

  • Involvement in any workplace conflict situation
  • Frequently argues or is angry
  • Expressing workplace violence as the method for resolving problems
  • Drug / alcohol abuse
  • Extreme behavior changes
  • Past violent behavior
  • Obsession with weapons
  • Direct or veiled threats
  • Intimidation / instilling fear in others
  • Hyper-sensitive to criticism
  • Grudge holding
  • Blames others
  • Depressed / suicidal
  • Poor work performance
  • Extreme changes in behavior
  • Few friends and outside interests
  • Obsessive involvement with the job

It is important to understand that a person may exhibit one or all of these indicators and never act violently. However, when these behaviors are observed, it is important for managers and supervisors to address and correct issues with employees before a violent situation develops.

In addition to understanding why workplace violence occurs and understanding the importance of addressing behavioral indicators, it is also important for managers and supervisors to understand the many reasons why workplace violence is not reported.

Reasons why workplace violence isn’t reported:

  • Employees feel as though nothing will be done
  • Manager/supervisor relationship to the perpetrator
  • Fear of annoying management
  • Fear of retaliation
  • Fear of reprimand
  • Lack of anonymity and personal privacy
  • No “open door policy” with management
  • Embarrassment

What is management’s responsibility?

Each agency is required by the Department of Human Resource Management to have a workplace violence policy. Managers and supervisors have a responsibility to communicate the agency’s workplace violence policy to all staff members and also to enforce the policy. Additionally, managers and supervisors should implement administrative controls to reduce the risk of employees being involved in a workplace violence incident. These may include, for example, an awareness of employee schedules and discussing the dangers of working alone after hours. Encourage all employees to report any incidents of workplace violence to their immediate supervisor. Managers and supervisors may recommend utilizing the buddy system when employees are working after hours. Another example of an administrative control is establishing secure visitor procedures and requiring all employees to wear employee identification to allow employees to be easily distinguished from visitors.

Managers should take all threats and complaints seriously, investigate and take appropriate action. Managers and supervisors should support frontline employees by ensuring that an action plan is in place to notify these employees immediately of “restricted visitors” who may attempt to gain access to the building.

What tools can safety professionals give managers and supervisors to help?

Managers and supervisors with the assistance of the safety officers can assess their agency’s vulnerability and conduct site hazard assessments. It is very important for managers and supervisors to obtain the cooperation and input of all employees. This can be accomplished by conducting employee hazard surveys. Obtaining input from employees from all areas of the agency paints a more accurate picture of agency vulnerability to workplace violence and other hazards.

After assessing the vulnerability of the agency, it may be appropriate to establish environmental controls in addition to administrative controls. Workspaces may be reconfigured to allow employees to easily escape. The agency may wish to consider the installation of alarms or security doors for additional protection.

Managers and supervisors have a responsibility to all employees to ensure that their working environment is well protected and they are well informed about the hazards that may be encountered in the workplace.

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

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