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October 26, 2017

Preventing violence in the workplace

Drawing of a fist. Used to illustrate story on preventing workplace violence.

Preventing workplace violence is an important priority.

From defusing everyday arguments in an office to staying safe in an active shooter situation, there are many different concepts employees must master in relation to violence prevention. Every level of conflict resolution has its own unique role to play, especially due to the risk that small issues will lead into larger, more dangerous problems if left unaddressed. The proper training and preparation can materially improve the workplace experience – and even safeguard lives.

2 million workplace violence incidents each year

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) noted that workplace violence is a blanket term covering a full spectrum of incidents up to and including homicide. OSHA noted that workplace homicides claimed 403 lives in 2014, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The total number of people harmed in workplace incidents is over 2 million annually. OSHA noted that it is impossible to get a complete count, because many violent problems go unreported.
Given the scale of the threat posed by workplace violence, and the number of forms it can take, demand for better solutions comes from both employers and their workers. OSHA noted the first step toward resolving the risk of violence in workplaces often begins with the policies implemented by management. This means establishing clearly that there will be no tolerance for violent conduct of any kind.
One of the main components of any successful corporate directive is ample explanation for employees – no one can be expected to follow a plan they don’t understand. This can take the form of education and training, focusing on both general safety measures and specific directives relevant for the industry in question.

Effective preparation means everyday incident prevention

The most tragic and large-scale incidents of workplace violence include mass shootings. Consultant Felix P. Nater used a LinkedIn article to point out that despite the high profile afforded to shootings and other homicides, programs designed to prevent workplace violence should aim to stop smaller, more everyday occurrences.
Nater argues that true conflict resolution begins with everyday zero-tolerance policies. He added that workplace prevention programs that begin and end with preparing workers to deal with an armed intruder ignore the much more common forms of unacceptable conduct, such as harassment or bullying that go on in places of employment every day, and which deserve to be addressed through formalized processes.

Photo of man being bullied by coworkers.Workplace violence may build up over time, with smaller infractions – like bullying – setting the tone.

Numerous avenues for action

There isn’t just one way to make a workplace less prone to violent conduct, and corporate leaders should consider many different approaches to improving their environments. CSO contributor Jonathan Wackrow gave a run-down of the kinds of efforts that companies can implement. The variety of actions he suggested demonstrates how many different policies leaders can change as they attempt to improve their work situations.
For example, when employees are specifically retained to provide on-the-job security, it’s important to make sure these individuals have the training, benefits and motivation needed to perform their duties. Furthermore, when companies don’t have counseling systems in place or ways for workers to speak with someone about any problems they may be experiencing, serious issues may go undetected for a long time.
Staffing practices can also be tuned to minimize the risk of violence. Wackrow noted when companies are under-staffed to achieve their intended objectives, they may end up straining the workers to the breaking point and bringing violence to the forefront. The way managers interact with their teams may also set the tone for the office. Open and positive communication is far better than remote, unexplained decision-making or arbitrary-seeming orders.

Courses to consider

The variety of approaches needed to successfully curtail workplace violence translates into a full list of workplace training courses. Some of these focus on situations particular to certain industries, while others are more general. They range from preparation for the most extreme circumstances, such as the threat of an active shooter, to the small disagreements that can mark the beginning of a problematic environment. Consider the following specific areas:

  • Active shooter preparation: A video-based course explaining the most effective ways to escape from harm when faced with an armed assailant could save lives.
  • Bullying prevention: Sometimes, workplace violence doesn’t come out of nowhere – it builds up over time, with smaller infractions setting the tone. Anti-bullying courses can help stop this troubling trend before it starts.
  • Threat recognition: It’s possible to detect worrying scenarios before physical violence erupts. Training that can help workers tell when there is a risk emerging helps companies resolve issues without anyone suffering harm.

These courses are just the beginning. Training is a great resource for companies hoping to make their environments safe and hospitable. There is still too much violence in workplaces today, but collectively, organizations can reduce its prevalence.

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