According to OSHA, nearly 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year. Workplace violence includes any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite.
Workplace violence can take many different forms, and perpetrators are not always employees, so no employer can prevent all possible instances of workplace violence. However, there are steps you can take to lessen the risk of a catastrophe at your workplace.
OSHA provides helpful guidance for employers and even offers prevention tips for specific occupations. For example, health care and social workers tend to experience a higher level of exposure to workplace violence. OSHA provides comprehensive guidelines in its publication, Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers. While specific to the health care industry, this publication provides tips that can be implemented in many types of workplaces.
According to OSHA, one of the best precautions any employer can take is to establish a zero-tolerance policy on workplace violence. The policy should apply to all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors and any other individuals who may come in contact with company personnel.
As an HR professional, you can help identify and prevent potential workplace threats. For example, understanding when an employee’s inappropriate and/or aggressive behavior warrants a threat assessment versus referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can potentially make a difference in preventing an incident of workplace violence. Experts suggest considering factors such as whether the employee is able to recognize his or her own threatening behavior or if the employee’s behavior is persistent and causing other workers to feel unsafe.
No organization is immune to workplace violence. Train employees to be aware and to report any suspicious visitors or co-worker behavior to management. All reports should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly and promptly.