Workplace Violence

Workplace Violence

In the wake of the tragic shooting deaths of two journalists in Virginia last week, business owners, managers, and workers around the country are no doubt giving thought to what can be done to prevent such violence at work before it occurs.

Unfortunately, experts say that it is impossible to predict and prevent such events. But they agree that some measures, including training employees and managers, providing counseling services, and conducting regular performance evaluations based on objective performance criteria need to be in place, and utilized early, before comparatively minor issues get out of control. Experts agree that both early intervention and thorough preparation of the workforce to deal with difficult co-workers are key in preventing run-of-the-mill workplace disputes from escalating.

Reacting before behavior gets out of control in order to correct an employee’s behavior can make all the difference.

How difficult workers are handled can make a difference too. Sometimes treating the worker respectfully and with kind words will change his frame of mind. But if respect, counseling, and performance improvement plans don’t work and termination becomes necessary, then approaching a disgruntled employee in the right way can be a preventative. Instead of criticizing the employee for his or her faults, failures, or character, an approach that emphasizes that the company and employee are simply not a good match can head off problems.

In some cases, however, an enhanced security plan and professional threat assessment may be necessary, including monitoring a person’s online behavior and presence.

Workplace violence, as classified by OSHA, covers a range of behavior from threats or verbal abuse to homicide. By their standard, nearly two million Americans report feeling victimized in work situations every year. In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in their Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, reported 404 workplace homicides. But colleagues and former colleagues were responsible for only 74 of those killings.

OSHA emphasizes identifying factors that may contribute to workplace violence and taking appropriate precautions. Such factors include exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people, which is what apparently happened in Virginia. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence.

Providing services and care, and working where alcohol is served may also impact the likelihood of violence. Additionally, time of day and location of work, such as working late at night or in areas with high crime rates, are also risk factors that should be considered when addressing issues of workplace violence. By assessing their work sites, employers can identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring.

OSHA believes that a well-written and implemented Workplace Violence Prevention Program, combined with engineering controls, administrative controls, and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence in both the private sector and Federal workplaces.