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Workplace Violence: The Program Review

How Soon We Forget

Remember the shooting of a dean and a professor by a disgruntled student at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, VA? What about Columbine High School? The team identified as the “DC Snipers” changed the lives of several people forever and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 sent shock waves throughout the nation.

As a result, workplace violence prevention rightfully became a top agency priority throughout the Commonwealth. Workplace violence (WPV) is still a very real issue in today’s work environment. Careful attention by management to behavioral changes in employees can help to greatly reduce the likelihood of an incident.

The Department of Human Resource Management requires all state agencies to comply with the WPV Policy 1.80. Under this policy, all agencies must “create and maintain a workplace designed to prevent or deter workplace violence through the development of agency policies and procedures that articulate how this policy will be implemented in their agency.” However, developing WPV policies and procedures is not a cookie-cutter activity. They must be agency and location specific, with strict attention paid to details such as office settings, customers and security measures in place.

Programs, policies, training, hazard assessments, and incident reporting mechanisms must be developed and implemented to ensure that the agency is proactively addressing the issue. This process can only begin with management’s understanding of WPV.

What is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence is violence that occurs in the workplace that affects employees. The workplace can be defined as the place where work occurs, including traveling between job sites or working in a location other than a permanent office.

The violence can take many forms: road rage, sabotage, product contamination, vandalism, threats, physical violence, and even homicide. Workplace violence can involve strangers, customers/clients, former employees, or personal relationships (family members, friends, romantic interests). Workplace violence is a concern not only because it affects employees directly involved, but also may affect innocent bystanders – co-workers, students, patients, or clients – caught in the right place at the wrong time.

Program Review/Updates

It is not enough to write the violence prevention program or even to train employees once the document is complete. An effective program constantly evolves and always improves. The agency should ensure that program updates, drills, and training occur frequently.

How frequently? A good rule of thumb is to review the program at least annually, and:

  • when there have been staff changes;
  • when the drills identify deficiencies or areas of improvement;
  • when there are changes in a process or procedure;
  • and, most importantly, when there are physical changes to the work environment.

There is nothing more frightening or frustrating than trying to contact persons to assist with a potentially violent situation and finding out that contact names, locations, or telephone numbers are incorrect and outdated. This situation exposes the affected employee or employees to intense stress and could potentially contribute to the employee(s) being severely injured or killed. Be sure to ask the individuals responsible for various tasks within the program if they are interested in continuing in their assigned position each time the program is reviewed.

Training and re-training of employees should also occur annually and when new employees are hired and when drills indicate that the WPV prevention plan did not work as expected. During the training process, solicit ideas from employees who participated in the training or drill to potentially identify ways to improve the process.

Additionally, local emergency responders (police, fire, EMS) should be updated frequently. Annual tours and program reviews are an excellent way to ensure that responders are familiar with the worksite and any program or policy changes. The agency should also consult with the responders to confirm that they are capable to provide needed services should an emergency occur.

Frequent reminders about workplace violence prevention ensures that employers are living up to the responsibility of providing a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm to…employees” as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Duty Clause. The lessons learned from unsuspecting employees affected by violence in unprepared work environments should not be forgotten. Remember, learn from the past to be prepared for the future.

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