Any act in which one person seeks to hurt or intimidate another through the use of physical contact, verbal harassment, or manipulation, can be defined as workplace violence and is a risk common to all employers. Violence in any form is always offensive and in the extreme is tragic and costly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly five percent of 7.1 million private businesses experienced an incident of workplace violence in the previous year. The National Safe Workplace Institute reports that each act of workplace violence costs $250,000 on average, factoring in legal expenses, lost work time, and decreased productivity associated with a decline in employee morale. Nationally, this adds up to an estimated annual cost exceeding a billion dollars and includes increased costs for workers’ compensation insurance.
Employers also face legal liability with OSHA’s General Duty Clause that states that each employer shall furnish a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. OSHA’s website contains a workplace violence overview section with information on risk factors, prevention programs, training resources, and enforcement letters of interpretation. Employers need to address the threat of workplace violence through the following measures.
Establish a Workplace Violence Policy – Incorporate a workplace violence policy in an employee handbook which defines violence and states that all concerns will be investigated with appropriate action taken (up to and including dismissal). An acknowledgement form should be used for employee signature attesting they have reviewed, understand, and will comply with the policy.
Applicant Screening – The application process should include contact with all listed references on the application form, an extensive interview, and a criminal background and motor vehicle record check. A zero-tolerance stance on workplace violence should be reiterated upon hire.
Employee Education – Provide awareness training on workplace violence with an emphasis on the early reporting of potential concerns of violence. Involve all employees and hold managers and supervisors responsible for instructing their assigned employees on reporting procedures and emergency response. The MEMIC Safety Director contains a wide array of training resources on violence in the workplace.
Employee Counseling – Establish an Employee Assistance Program for employee access to qualified professionals trained to provide support, assistance, and resolution in a confidential manner.
Enhance Security – Install video surveillance equipment, provide ID badges to employees, have all visitors sign in and out of the building, discourage employees from working alone, and ensure parking lot lighting is adequate.
Response Planning – Establish a plan for emergency response in the event of an escalating situation or actual incident and review the plan with employees at least annually.
Program Evaluation – Conduct an evaluation of any incident response for improvement opportunity including the threat assessment protocol and methods of communication to local and state authorities.
Take prudent action now to reduce the danger of anger erupting in your workplace so no one is left saying, “If only I had done something sooner!”