Workplace violence is correlated with a variety of risk factors. Just how to mitigate those risks has perplexed businesses around the country for decades. For example, the behavior of employees and their relationships with coworkers can be one set of indicators. Features of the type of work and the workplace location itself can pose another set of risks. It is important to understand the whole picture if we are to prevent workplace violence.
ASIS International, a global organization of security professionals whose duties are to protect people, property, and information, offers this working definition of workplace violence:
A spectrum of behaviors, including overt acts of violence, threats, and other conduct, that generates a reasonable concern for safety from violence, where a nexus (connection) exists between the behavior and the physical safety of employees and others such as customers, clients, and business associates on-site or off-site when related to the organization.
Workplace Violence Factors
Although many of us often focus on the perpetrators of violence, we must also look at the type of work and the location of the facility to find the root causes of violence. Here are nine commonalities—common factors—that often play a role in workplace violence. Some of these might surprise you.
- Locations that stay open late. Workplace violence can and does happen at any time, on any day. However, there is a higher likelihood of violence in those areas where people work late at night.
- Locations where employees often work alone. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there is a somewhat greater potential for violence in facilities where people work alone or in isolated areas of a facility.
- Workplaces located in an area at high risk for crime. Such areas can be more prone to robberies and break-ins, resulting in workplace violence. In fact, the most common motive for job-related homicides is robbery, accounting for 85 percent of workplace violence deaths.
- Locations where employees handle cash or there are valuable goods on hand. Again, this increases the likelihood of a robbery or break-in, which can lead to violence.
- Businesses where employees deal with members of the public or sell products to the public. These outward-facing positions can be vulnerable to violence.
- Businesses where alcohol is served. It is estimated that one out of every ten people in the United States has an alcohol problem. People who abuse alcohol or have other substance use problems may be more unstable. This can contribute to workplace violence.
- Locations where employees serve patients, social service clients, or people held against their will. This could include delivery drivers, health care professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, even law enforcement personnel.
- Organizations that have a history of workplace violence.
- Organizations that have a tolerance for inappropriate or threatening behavior.
So, given all of these risk factors, what steps can we take to reduce the risk of workplace violence? One of the best precautions is to have a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. This must be a clear and well-written document that applies to employees as well as people using and working in a facility. The policy should be required reading for all staffers, be included in an employee handbook, and be incorporated into an organization’s health and safety program. Further, the policy should address how violence in the workplace will be treated, investigated, and remedied should it occur.
A zero-tolerance policy is most successful when used in conjunction with a broader workplace violence prevention plan. For that reason, business owners, facility managers, and administrators are encouraged to turn to experts when drawing up these documents. Although violence prevention plans may need to be updated from time to time, if done correctly, they can become part of an organization’s standard operating procedures for years to come.
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