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Preventing Workplace Violence Before It Starts: Part 1

Lance Guillory
June 12, 2024

Business owners and executives juggle countless responsibilities, but between managing operations and driving growth, there’s a critical issue that often flies under the radar until it’s too late—workplace violence (WPV). It’s important to understand that workplace violence isn’t just about active shooter or intruder situations, as heavily portrayed in the media and promulgated by security institutions that offer training. Successful WPV prevention also involves having a well thought out, frequently updated plan and policy that covers a range of violent acts committed in the workplace, from physical assault and harassment escalating up to homicide.

Combating Workplace Violence

Incident avoidance is not acceptable—indeed, most likely not possible. Our job is to make it manageable."

Combating Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is a prevalent and global issue that spans across several industries, but there are effective preventative measures and practices to adopt that reduce this risk. 

As workplace safety is on the decline, our focus will be on chapter one of Combating Workplace Violence: Creating and Maintaining Safe Work Environments, which helps readers identify and define workplace violence, understand industry-wide statistics and their importance, and think about creating a workplace culture that prioritizes safety. This is how your organization begins to not only respond to, but prevent workplace violence from disrupting you and your team.

What is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence is a public health issue that impacts everyone. Families, friends, bosses, and coworkers, but no wage is worth a life. Knowing what WPV is and the risks you face is the first step to helping your team feel safe, keeping productivity up and stress down. Here are some key definitions to familiarize yourself with as we continue. 

  • Workplace - The company office space or any company-sponsored property/events.
  • Perpetrator - The individual who threatens or causes harm to personnel or property.
  • Target - The personnel or property being threatened or harmed.
  • Workplace Violence - Any behavior by a perpetrator that poses a threat or inflicts serious physical or mental harm, injury, or death to an individual at a workplace, or causes damage to property. This includes harassment, intimidation, theft, stalking, bullying, verbal and physical abuse, assault, arson, bombing, extortion, homicide, or any disruptive/hostile behavior.

Common examples of workplace violence:

  • Physical assaults (hitting, kicking, slapping)
  • Verbal threats or threats of physical harm
  • Harassment or bullying, including persistent negative behavior toward a colleague
  • Stalking or unwanted attention from a coworker or client
  • Intimidation tactics, including aggressive gestures or body language
  • Sexual harassment, rape, or assault
  • Vandalism or destruction of property within the workplace
  • Bringing weapons to the workplace with the intent to threaten or harm
  • Cyberbullying or sending threatening messages via email or social media
  • Homicide or attempts to commit homicide in the workplace

Perpetrators of workplace violence could include:

  • Criminals with malicious intent, typically unconnected to the organization
  • Disgruntled clients, patients, or inmates with current or past affiliations to the organization
  • Worker-on-worker conflicts, involving incidents between two or more current or former employees within the workplace
  • Domestic partners or individuals with personal relationships to someone within the organization

"Violent crime by non-employees tends to be random acts by an opportunistic criminal and is difficult to anticipate."

Combating Workplace Violence

No space is immune to this kind of violence, however a Physical Security Risk Assessment is a great way to begin reducing your risk of violent crime by identifying weak spots in your security practices. We will discuss ways to proactively identify signs of workplace violence further below.

Homicide & Nonfatal Workplace Violence Statistics

The exchange of money, goods, or services, along with working in small groups automatically increases the risk of violence. Knowing the frequency of attacks, the severity of incidents, and their underlying causes helps both you and your security risk manager formulate effective safety protocols and preventive measures if an event were to come up in the future. Even if you are self-employed, you are considered your own employer, and any hostile interactions involving you and your business qualify as workplace violence.

From the CDC, 2015-2019 regarding workplace homicides: 

  • 23% of victims of workplace homicides were self-employed.
  • 21% of victims of workplace homicides worked in sales and related occupations.
  • 66% of workplace homicide victims were ages 25 to 54.

"...homicides due to robberies and similar acts still make up 69% of all homicides."

Combating Workplace Violence

Homicides continue to be a leading cause of traumatic occupational fatalities, ranking behind traffic-related deaths. Nonfatal workplace violence is also a prevalent concern for businesses. 

From the CDC, 2015-2019 regarding nonfatal workplace violence:

  • Strangers committed 47% of nonfatal workplace violence, with male victims less likely than female victims to know the offender.
  • Offenders were armed in 24% of nonfatal workplace violence incidents in retail sales and transportation industries.
  • An annual average of 1.3 million nonfatal workplace violent victimizations occurred, including 53,000 rapes or sexual assaults, 46,000 robberies, 186,000 aggravated assaults, and 979,000 simple assaults.

Some of these incidents may look like parking lot disputes, open-fire shootings, and harsh assaults, which can result in not just emotional and physical damage, but enormous financial and operational losses for the company.

How it Affects You and Your Employees

When workplace violence occurs, an employer must have designated specific work areas as the workplace and the incident must have occurred within this space. However, once an incident takes place:

  • 50% of the workforce will decrease in productivity.
  • 20-40% of the workforce will leave.
  • $500,000 will be the average pay-out settlement for the company.

Increased stress, strained relationships, workplace tension, higher turnover rates, and diminished morale are just the start. When employees begin to feel unsafe, trust erodes, and productivity suffers. Neglecting workplace violence prevention has the potential to severely impact your employees and business health.

"If the negative image is left uncorrected, the long-term effects could be disastrous."

Combating Workplace Violence

The average time an affected worker was out of work due to an incident in this survey was a full 7 days. Victims of workplace violence can also suffer long-term consequences, permanently impacting their ability to work. Managers may also experience guilt or responsibility for the disruptions caused by violence, putting even more strain on workplace dynamics. 

Small business owners can also become victims of WPV, and relying solely on your sense of trust in long-time employees, loyal customers, and new strangers is risky. People don’t always act predictably and gaps in your processes require expert intervention. While trust is good to have, it must be backed by solid security measures such as emergency plans, policies, and procedures. Bringing in outside help to provide concrete security advice in an emergency helps you maintain peace of mind that you, your business, and employees are well-protected.

Potential Warning Signs of Workplace Violence

Identifying the warning signs, triggers, and environments that expose your organization to hostility is a good foundation for better security. Increase awareness among your team about the behaviors and factors that can lead up to a catastrophic event with the information below. 

Know that internal self-monitoring can serve as an effective layer of protection, on top of a Physical Security Risk Assessment. Encourage your staff to be vigilant and report any concerning behaviors or situations.

Here are some indicators to watch for regarding workplace violence:

  • Aggressive or violent behavior patterns from employees
  • Incidents of thefts and break-ins in the vicinity
  • Lack of disciplinary action or a lenient managerial environment
  • Employees feeling singled-out, harassed, or threatened
  • Social media activity towards your company/employees centered around violent acts
  • Personal disputes or deteriorating relationships manifesting in the workplace

Signs of high stress or behavioral changes may also signal the potential for workplace violence, such as:

  • Frequent or escalating disruptive behavior
  • Noticeable changes in an individual’s usual behavior patterns
  • Temper tantrums, disrespect towards authority, and chronic lateness
  • Increasing mistakes, errors, and poor job performance or judgment
  • Disregard for personal and others’ safety
  • Blaming others, poorly handling criticism, and social isolation

Physical indications one might be experiencing high stress:

  • Exaggerated gestures or clenched jaws/fists
  • Flushed or pale face, extreme sweating
  • Scowling, glaring, avoiding eye contact

While these are signs that someone could be under extreme mental or emotional distress, it does not mean they will commit a violent act. They just might need some outside help. Always take action if you are concerned and remember that there are no single indicators of violence on the horizon.

5 Truths to Take Back to Your Team

To be truly effective, your organization’s workplace violence prevention plan should involve input from everyone—all stakeholders. Successful implementation of these requires both strong internal leadership and guidance from an expert consultant. This policy should cover and mention all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who comes into contact with the company. 

And, here’s the truth about workplace violence:

  1. Workplace violence rarely occurs without warning signs.
  2. A great deal can be done to prevent workplace violence.
  3. Only 5% of workplace violence incidents are committed by individuals deemed mentally ill or disturbed.
  4. Workplace violence can happen anywhere, in any work situation.
  5. Your workforce should operate with a blend of security measures and self-surveillance.
  6. Being prepared is the best step to ensure violence does not impact your organization.

Combating Workplace Violence, ‘A Dozen Myths About Workplace Violence’

Is Your Small-Medium Business Prepared? 

"Employers who do not take steps to prevent or abate a recognized violence hazard in the workplace can be cited for failure to comply."

Combating Workplace Violence

The aftermath of violent incidents is costly—legally, physically, and emotionally. Notably for businesses, The General Duty Clause requires that you (employers) provide your employees a workplace free of hazards that are likely to cause serious physical harm or death. 

Expert consultancy like Safe Haven Risk Management ensures that your range of resources does not mean inefficient security. 
Show concern for your organization and fulfill your Duty of Care today.

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