Workplace violence is an ever-growing concern for employers and their employees. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), almost 2 million Americans are victims of occupational violence every year. Regular training to prevent workplace violence is one of the most important steps an organization can take to protect its employees.
OSHA defines workplace violence as any “act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” This can range from verbal threats and abuse to physical assaults.
As many employees return to an in-person work environment – after more than a year of isolation and uncertainties due to COVID pandemic and civil and political unrest – they can bring with them worries about finances, family, health and other issues that can increase workplace tensions. Thus far, 2021 has seen an increase in extreme events, including active shooter incidents in CO, IN and CA.
The US Department of Labor reports that 27% of all violent events in the workplace are tied to domestic violence. Forms of harassment, including sexual harassment, are often precursors to workplace and domestic violence and include statements and actions directed at individuals to make them feel uncomfortable or intimidated.
Planning and education can reduce the risk of workplace violence and its consequences. Employers should take 4 steps to minimize the threat:
- Communicate your commitment to combating workplace violence
Organizations should adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace harassment and violence and regularly communicate it to employees at every level and department. Anyone experiencing or observing threatening verbal or physical behaviors should be encouraged to report it to their manager, regardless of whom they’re reporting and without facing retaliation.
- Train employees to recognize the warning signs of potential violence
Regular training can alert employees to the warning signs of potential violence so an incident can be stopped before it starts. Red flags include:
- Use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace
- Changes in behavior, such as depression and withdrawal
- Mood swings and overreactions to criticism or evaluations
- Complaints about unfair treatment and hostile threats
- Violations of organization policies
- Have managers play an active role in preparedness
Front line supervisors and managers are the first line of defense in de-escalating volatile situations and should take an active role in developing and communicating employee preparedness plans. Plans should cover what employees do in the event a workplace incident occurs, how the organization will respond to employees’ mental, emotional and physical needs in the aftermath, and include resources and support for workers experiencing domestic violence.
- Create a positive work environment
Fostering a supportive work environment year-round reduces workplace discrimination and harassment, incivility and acts of violence. By encouraging employees to accept individual differences as positive attributes that play a vital role in the team’s strengths, workplace conflicts are reduced while respect and inclusion is strengthened.
The physical, mental and emotional stress stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, social movements and political change brings added tensions to the workplace that can erupt into verbal and physical harassment and violence. Regular training to prevent workplace violence and foster an inclusive and respectful workplace are two of the most important ways an organization can protect its employees.
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