Workplace Violence Prevention

workplace violence

Most people have a specific image in mind when they hear the term “security risk.” Some think of a hardened criminal, or a disgruntled insider. Others picture a faceless hacker in an unmarked building, peddling out lines of code to infiltrate bank accounts. But rarely does anybody consider one of the most recurrent threats facing companies today: workplace violence.

The National Safety Council suggests that every year, thousands of Americans self-report as victims of workplace violence. This statistic does not account for the many other victims worldwide, which Gallup estimates to be about 23% of the total, global workforce, or a staggering 750-million individuals.

Fortunately, workplace violence isn’t an unstoppable scourge. With a little education and a greater focus on the issue, companies can make meaningful strides toward better protecting their people.

What is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence is an intentionally broad term. The United States Department of Labor defines it as, “… any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other disruptive behavior that occurs at work.” Qualifying events include everything from verbal abuse to homicide, and affected parties extend beyond staff to other stakeholders, like clients, customers, vendors, and strategic partners.

When is Workplace Violence a Security Risk?

Safety and security go hand-in-hand, which is why workplace violence is right at home next to the motley collection of other severe threats facing companies the world over. Verbal intimidation, physical aggression, and sexual assault jeopardize the safety of the perpetrator, the victim, and those around them. The impact is so profound, in fact, that the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress consider mental health affects developed after an incident on the job as a valid qualifier for formal post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics also paints a morbid picture for just how out-of-hand violence in the workplace has become in recent years. According to a two-year-old report in Bureau’s The Economics Daily section, there were over 392 workplace homicides in 2020 alone. Coupled with these murder rates were an astounding 37,060 nonfatal attempts to cause intentional bodily harm on workers by colleagues, customers, and others. Even more shockingly, these numbers were collected during the first year of the Coronavirus Pandemic, when far fewer people were working on-site than they are today. The current stats are much more grim, putting annual workplace murder rates at closer to 600.

How can Organizations Prevent Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence has become such a potent security risk that states like California have gone so far as to enact legislative requirements (CA SB 553), mandating employers to administer routine prevention and response training to their workforces. And while most security professionals agree that training is crucial, there are several, additional methods companies should use to assist in mitigating the possibility of violence on the job.

Foster a culture of unity and inclusiveness.

Managers are used to getting what they want when they want it. But sometimes, the usual top-down approach to leadership alienates employees and creates consternation. A surefire way to avoid this is to promote a culture of questioning, where employees are encouraged to share opinions and constructively challenge the status quo.

Related, managers should also seek to cultivate workplace environments where all feel appreciated and welcomed for their identities. Encouraging those of differing backgrounds to work together furthers interpersonal understanding and lessens the likelihood of misunderstanding, which can ultimately lead to conflict.

Detect internal and external indicators.

Learning how to recognize the signs of impending workplace violence events is critical to keeping everyone safe.

Some key, external influencers that might drive someone to violence include deteriorating relationships with family and friends, substance abuse, newly developed mental health disorders, pressure from by a criminal or state-sponsored bad actor, or economic hardship.

There are also several internal markers that tend to precede violent occurrences. These include discontent over a lack of promotion, paranoia about layoffs or job security, a sudden refusal to follow company guidelines, increased absenteeism, and more.

Practice safety-first response protocols.

Even with the best company culture and sensitivity to risk factors, sometimes, workplace violence happens anyway. It’s incredibly important for organizations to know how to respond to these incidents, should they flare up.

The first step is to flag any instance of workplace violence, as soon as possible. The quicker it’s reported to someone of authority (e.g., trusted supervisor, security staff, etc.), the better. Next, leadership teams should work with security personnel to isolate and confront the perpetrator in a controlled environment. And finally, if the incident is dangerous enough, those in charge should seek to sequester or evacuate bystanders as a way of minimizing harm to others.

Teach workplace-wide de-escalation skills.

Behind every case of workplace violence, there’s a person, and that person is someone who might be capable of reason. The best way to reach someone is to listen and empathize. Hearing what they have to say could calm them down enough to prevent further damage. The goal of de-escalation is to limit the danger to all, including the perpetrator. A peaceful resolution is always preferable to a chaotic one.

Workplace Violence Prevention Starts with You.

Personal and professional development can help workforces throughout all industries stay safe. As a way of aiding those seeking to do their part in defending against workplace violence, security firms like Chameleon Associates offer comprehensive virtual and in-person trainings on prevention and response. These modules will prepare your organization for when a quiet workplace environment suddenly turns tumultuous.

To learn more about and register for our new, online workplace violence prevention course, check out the information page, here.

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