Violent behavior at work presents a serious safety and health issue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2010 there were 808 workplace fatalities because of assaults and violent acts. Deaths resulting from workplace violence, including homicides and suicides, represented 18 percent of fatal occupational injuries. In 2010, there were 258 workplace suicides, just shy of the 2009 mark of 263, which represented the highest annual total ever reported by the bureau's fatality census.
Although 25 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have standards and enforcement policies approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there are currently no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence. The responsibility to protect the workplace, and the workers' compensation consequences for not providing a safe workplace, ultimately falls on the employer.
Know the Warning Signs
Workplace violence occurs across all professions. More than two million Americans are affected by workplace violence each year. While every situation is unique -- and there is no sure way to predict human behavior -- some warning signs that employers and employees should be aware of include:
* Excessive tardiness or absences.
* Increased need for supervision.
* Lack of performance, change in work habits.
* Inability to concentrate
* Signs of stress, change in attitude.
* Fascination with weapons.
* Substance abuse problems.
* Not taking responsibility for actions.
Exhibiting one of these behaviors does not necessarily mean an employee is prone to an act of violence. But when someone's behavior has noticeably changed or the troublesome behavior is constant, it should be reported to management. In turn, employers and employees must take all threats seriously, whether they are verbal or physical.
Workplace Violence Checklist
Begin with education. Employees and management need to be trained to recognize the warning signs of violence and provide them with ways to defuse volatile situations.
Put a violence prevention program in place. Develop a plan for preventing, mitigating and responding to violence. Implement clear, consistent procedures for reporting violent incidents and establish a culture of acceptance for reporting violence.
Analyze workplace violence records to identify risks by department and/or work area. How many incidents have occurred? What job task was being performed? Which workers were victimized (gender, age, job classification, etc.)? What type of incident occurred? Obtain the "who, what, where, when and why" of the vulnerable work areas.
Conduct a walkthrough of the workplace. Take notice of hazards that would affect health and safety, and note security measures. Local police may also be able to assist with or conduct a security audit.
Survey employees to identify potential workplace violence. What do the employees see as risk factors? Are current control measures working? Seek ideas for improvements and prevention measures. Keep communication open and provide ways for employees to bring issues to management's attention.
Identify environmental risk factors. Are there crime patterns in the neighborhood that influence safety at work? Do entrances and parking have ample lighting? Are security officers visible and available? Are fire/escape routes clearly marked? Are identification tags required for employees and visitors?
Ensure that employees know specific procedures for dealing with workplace threats, violence and emergencies. Employees, managers and supervisors all must know how to contact police, fire and other safety and security officials.
Companies can never free themselves from the threat or possibility of workplace violence, but by altering employee behavior as well as the structure and nature of the workplace, the likelihood of tragedy and risk to your business is greatly reduced.
Next Step for Employers
Taking proactive, preventative steps by both the employer and their employees are essential for reducing fear and stopping workplace violence. Workplace violence may come from many sources, from intruders to angry co-workers, and in many forms, but any and all violence should be treated the same? with zero tolerance.
It is the employer's responsibility to provide a safe workplace -- not only within their job activity, but also from their co-workers and from non-employees such as spouses or disgruntled customers. By putting a plan in place to help recognize the warning signs of workplace violence, and knowing what to do if it does occur, employers can help create a safer environment for employees while minimizing their workers' compensation risk.
MARK NOONAN is a managing principal and the senior knowledge manager for workers' compensation for the Casualty Practice within Integro Insurance Brokers.
November 3, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications