Establishing a Safe Workplace - What Can You Do?

Article by Jack Goldberg

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By Amy Hertling-Johnson; Exec. VP of Forté Human Resources- Lakewood
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What is Workplace Violence?

Images of shootings, robberies, and assaults first come to mind. But workplace violence encompasses any threatening behavior or verbal or physical abuse in the work environment.  Harassment and bullying can also be considered workplace violence, as well as domestic abuse when the resulting assault or threat occurs in the workplace.

According to a 2012 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, 36% of the companies surveyed said there had been incidents of workplace violence in their places of work. As employers, we have to deal with threats, intimidation, physical altercations, and other abusive behavior - not only from employees but also from vendors, customers, and relatives of employees.  Although workplace violence resulting in death remains rare, it does still occur; workplace violence is the second leading cause of death on the job and the first leading cause of death on the job for women.  Because of the danger to employees, to the public, and to the company, effectively managing employees who are in stressful situations and preventing workplace violence should be important to every employer.

Prevention

As employers, we have a responsibility to provide our employees and customers a safe environment. The following tips provide some insight on policies and procedures that can help prevent violent outbursts.  While an employer cannot predict the behavior of every employee or every person associated with the company, well-thought-out procedures can decrease the chance of a violent outburst and help employees handle situations before they escalate.

Create a Workplace Violence Policy

Clearly state your company’s zero tolerance for workplace violence in a written policy and enforce the policy consistently.  A comprehensive policy prohibiting all types of violence including verbal and physical threats, fights, intimidation, physical destruction of property, sabotage of company products, extremely violent behavior, and, in some cases, even gossip and innuendo sets the standard for company behavior.  Such a policy allows you to confront inappropriate behavior at its onset and establishes the rules for your employees.  All employees must be confronted about their inappropriate behavior.  You can stop behavior from escalating and you can demonstrate to all other employees that you take this matter seriously.

Conduct a Workplace Audit

Conduct an audit of your workplace or hire an expert to assess the security at your company.  Such an audit should include an analysis of previous incidents of workplace violence, identification of work sites, jobs, activities, and procedures that are associated with an increased risk of assault (e.g. late hours, employees working alone, situations where money is exchanged with the public), evaluation of the physical features of your worksite (looking for areas of risk such as isolated areas, lack of telephones, lighting deficiencies etc.), and an assessment of the effectiveness of existing security measures. This type of audit will make you aware of areas of concern that should be addressed to ensure employee safety. For example:

  • Do you need security cameras or a security system?   
  • Are visitors allowed to be unaccompanied? How are visitors identified?
  • Who has keys or key cards to the office or place of work?
  • Are there certain hours when the doors must remain locked?
  • Is the parking lot well lit?
  • Do employees often work alone?
  • How is cash handled?

Train your Managers

Having an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a great first step in preventing workplace violence by providing a secure resource to employees. The EAP can also educate your managers on how to recognize and handle potentially violent employees or employees who may be victims of domestic violence. Supervisors and managers are usually in the best position to identify problems early on, deal with performance issues, and alert human resources and upper management as to any difficulties.  Provide your employees with training so that they have the confidence and skills to manage volatile situations.

Deal with Performance Problems Promptly

Address performance problems consistently and quickly.  Employees who believe they have been targeted for unfair or unreasonable discipline are susceptible to feelings of anger and powerlessness.  They may become vocal about their unhappiness with the employer and may feel a need to lash out.  If performance problems are dealt with promptly and the employee knows that the same standards are applied to all employees, he or she will generally perceive the discipline and treatment as fair.

Help your Employees Deal with Stressful Situations

Family and marital problems and stress can trigger violent behaviors.  While an employer cannot control an employee’s personal life, an employer can establish avenues of assistance so employees can get help early on.  Whether you offer the assistance of a formal EAP, offer support through your medical plan, or step in with time off of work, the company benefits when employees learn to manage and work through their personal and work-related issues in a positive, non-violent manner. 

Prevention of workplace incidents through implementation of clear policies, training, good employee relations, and referrals for employees who need assistance are key to maintaining a healthy work environment.  Take the time to figure out what your company can do to assist your employees.  If you need assistance with this, or any HR issue, please call on us.

Personnel(ly) Speaking is a monthly comment on HR issues of importance.  It is intended to provide general information and must not be construed as legal advice.  Reproductions are allowed as long as credit for this information is given to PMSI.  We welcome your comments, questions, and concerns.  © PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS, INC., Corporate Office, (425) 576-1900

www.hrpmsi.com.

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