What comes to mind when you hear the phrase workplace violence? If you’re like most people, you picture a physical altercation between employees of the same organization. In reality, workplace violence encompasses any physical or verbal abuse – including harassment, intimidation, humiliation, bullying (incl. cyberbullying), threats, etc. – between employees, customers, vendors, associates & others taking place on-or-off the premises!
Workplace violence is often broken into four main categories:
- Criminal Intent – i.e. robbery, shoplifting or trespassing
- Customer/Client – i.e. retaliation to a healthcare facility or airline passenger assaults
- Co-Worker – i.e. physical or emotional abuse of a fellow employee
- Personal Relationship – i.e. significant other showing up at spouses place of work
According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are nearly 2 million workers affected by workplace violence each year, & those are just the reported cases! There are a number of factors that can increase an employer’s chance of having an incident such as handling large amounts of cash, the serving of alcohol, being open late, operating in areas with high crime rates, providing service or care to those who are emotionally unstable, etc...
While not all workplace violence can be avoided, employers can significantly reduce the likelihood of an event from ever occurring by taking the appropriate precautions. First & foremost, an employer needs to establish a Zero-Tolerance Policy. Instituting such a policy sends a clear message throughout your organization that anything that toes-the-line, & could be considered threatening, will not be tolerated!
A zero-tolerance policy does not necessarily mean that an employee needs to be immediately terminated. However, it does mean that there needs to be a pre-defined consequence for any infraction, no matter how big or small, & regardless of the offender’s position within the company. The goal of the punishment is to nip this type of behavior in the bud before it has a chance to escalate into something more serious.
Outside of a zero-tolerance policy, employers can reduce the chances of a violent event from ever-happening by better screening applicants up-front for prior violent behaviors, implementing workplace violence training as part of an onboarding program, having a formal procedure for reporting such behavior before it has a chance to escalate (without fear of repercussions), pro-actively providing counseling/mental health services through a benefits package &, if an event does occur, having a systematic process for gathering the facts, determining the root cause & administering the consequences.
Workplace violence not only affects the individuals involved, its impact can be far-reaching & include damaging a company’s reputation, financial loss in the form of increased insurance costs, including workers compensation, litigation costs, diminished productivity, increased turnover & higher levels of stress throughout your entire organization. These are just a few of the issues a violent event can bring to the surface & doesn’t even include the physical harm employees could potentially suffer (i.e. active shooter situation)!
It is important for employers to address workplace violence head-on to demonstrate their commitment to company personnel that safety is their main concern. This type of safety-focused attitude, especially when ingrained in management, can permeate every facet of an organization & foster a true culture of safety!
Interested in learning how you can foster a culture of safety at your company? Register for our May OSHA 10-HR training and watch for details soon about our June Safety Roundtable.
Chas Lowe is a commercial insurance specialist at Zito Insurance Agency. For over 50 years the agency has been an anchor in Northeast Ohio known for creating better solutions tailored to the needs of their company partners.