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Preventing Workplace Violence

Steps to make your workplace safer


We have all seen the headlines:

"Six Die In Workplace Shooting In Mississippi"
"Seven Killed in Boston Area Office Shooting"
"Gunman kills 1, wounds 3 in Seattle shipyard shooting"
"Gunman kills 7 in Honolulu office"
"Gunman in Atlanta rampage kills himself; 12 dead, 12 injured"

Is any workplace safe anymore? What can you do to protect your employees from workplace violence?

No Workplace Is Safe

The Associated Press article "Even best policies wouldn't stop killer, Xerox executive says" quotes Richard Thoman, president and chief executive officer of Xerox saying "We do have experience with employees going through problems and, by and large, our policies have worked very well with them." He also said he doesn't believe Xerox could have done anything to prevent the violence that killed seven of its employees in Honolulu, HI.

Is your company as well prepared as Xerox? Do you have policies and procedures in place to prevent workplace violence? Do your managers and employees know what to do if workplace violence occurs?

Just in case you think it doesn't matter, aside from the human costs, the Workplace Violence Research Institute reports losses in 1995 from workplace violence in the United States alone amounted to approximately $35.4 billion.

The Business First article (www.amcity.com/columbus/stories/1998/05/25/focus1.html) "I'm fired? ... You're terminated! reports "Incidents of employees killing supervisors have doubled in the past 10 years". It offers concrete advice on how to minimize the risk by properly handling the employee concerned.

First, Understand the Problem

The University of California, Davis article Maintaining a Safe Workplace explains how to recognize disruptive, threatening, or violent behavior and how to respond to different levels of such behavior. It also details effective preventive steps.

The Center for Aggression Management(tm) contends that workplace violence is part of a larger issue - "aggression". Only if we address the full spectrum of aggression can we hope to prevent violence.

According to the Center, Aggression "embodies everything from verbal abuse through violent behavior. This includes the subjects of Sexual Harassment, Bullying, Management~Labor Disputes, Domestic Violence Spillover, Road Rage, Student~Teacher Conflict, Robbery, Militancy~Terrorism and Homicide."

Workplace Violence Headquarters is a great resource. It lists common misconceptions, warning signs to distinguish between everyday anger and explosive violence, and potential solutions.

Prevention Is Key

The first thing you need to do is to develop a violence prevention plan.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management publishes a Guide for Agency Planners that includes this advice on preventing workplace violence.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has published a handbook on Preventing Workplace Violence.

U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has published an extensive list of resources for preventing workplace violence including this list of "grass roots" efforts by the various states to prevent workplace violence.

Responding To Emergency Incidents

You always should use the highest practical level of physical security in your workplace. However, there will always be the possibility for a violent incident to occur.

If this happens:

  1. Contact local law enforcement (in the U.S. call 911) and follow their instructions
  2. Notify your private security force, if you have one
  3. Get people away from the scene as quickly as possible
  4. Secure the area if possible to preserve the crime scene for later investigation
  5. Most importantly, STAY CALM.
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