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Defining Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is actual violence or the threat of violence against coworkers. It can happen inside or outside of the workplace and encompasses everything from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are 4 types of workplace violence.

Type 1: Criminal Intent: The perpetrator has no connection or relationship with the business and is often committing a crime in conjunction with their actions. Examples include someone being attacked in a parking garage, shoplifting, or robbery.

Type 2: Customer/Client: The perpetrator is a customer/client of the employer and their act often occurs in conjunction with the worker’s normal duties. Healthcare workers are most often victims of this type of workplace violence.

Type 3: Worker-on-Worker: This type of violence is often called lateral or horizontal violence and the perpetrator is a current or former employee. Examples include bullying, verbal abuse that is offensive or vindictive, and harassment.

Type 4: Personal Relationship: The perpetrator often has a personal relationship with the victim. For example, a spouse or partner can follow an employee to their job and threaten them.

How Violence Can Affect the Workplace

Workplace violence occurrences can have a lasting impact on employees. Whether they were a victim or simply a bystander, they could be left with short-term or chronic consequences – anything from physical injury to mental distress to death. They could have added job stress, problems at home, or financial burdens as they process the trauma.

If they suffer from severe psychological trauma, it could lead to substance abuse, reactionary or retaliatory violence, illness, or suicide. Fear and anxiety often last much longer than physical injury.

Employees could find themselves in a full-blown crisis – a state of emotional turmoil where they are unable to cope emotionally, cognitively, or behaviorally. (Though perpetrators are often in a crisis state themselves.)

Biophysical manifestations include:
  • Rapid heart rate and hyperventilation
  • Raised blood pressure and chest pain
  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting
  • Involuntary shaking and rash/hives
Emotionally they would feel:
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Shock
  • Guilt
Their behavior might change as well leading to:
  • Decreased problem-solving ability
  • The inability to focus
  • Bouts of crying
  • Self-isolation
  • Irritability
This feeling of crisis doesn’t happen at the drop of a hat, but is the final straw, so to speak, in coping mechanisms that have continued to fail.

Going beyond just the initial trauma to people, these events affect business as well. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that workplace violence costs 500,000 employees 1.2 million lost workdays every year taking a huge chunk out of productivity.

Employees may begin to distrust management for letting such an event occur and for not keeping them safe and view their environment as hostile. This will breed low morale and employee turnover if victims start leaving their roles.

It depends on the type of violence that occurs, but costs are sure to rise if there is property damage, the need for new or more security protocols, or Worker’s Compensation claims.

Risk Factors of Workplace Violence

Every workplace is at risk for workplace violence, and there are different types of risk factors to be aware of.
  • Environmental risk factors are the physical things specific to the workplace such as layout, floor design, and amenities available. This includes blind corners, poor signage, unsecured fixtures or furniture, and lack of or lax security.
  • Organizational risk factors have more to do with the policies and procedures in place. This includes management and staff attitudes toward the possibility of an occurrence, lack of security, lack of training, poor reporting, and overworked staff.
  • Underreporting is a serious issue in workplace violence statistics. People underreport occurrences for a number of reasons – it’s just part of the job, it’s complex to do so, it’s too time-consuming, it could lead to victim-blaming, etc.
  • Social and economic risk factors have to do with society and the surrounding community. This includes a high poverty rate, lack of community involvement, societal norms that could glorify or encourage violence, and social inequities.
Those most vulnerable populations are those that exchange money, work late, work alone, care for others, or are in an environment where alcohol is served. Industries that are affected more are healthcare employees, social workers, correctional officers, educators, and retail employees.

Developing a Workplace Violence Prevention Program

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to “provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious harm.” Working to develop a workplace violence prevention program is a great step in the right direction to keep your employees safe and comply with legal standards.

Develop workplace violence prevention policies. Having effective policies in place can reduce the likelihood of threat and ensure that everything is dealt with appropriately if a violent incident does occur.

Conduct a threat assessment. Look through the worksite and consider all the possible risks and threats that could be carried out.

Be sure to run security checks to make sure the environment is safe and accessible for all workers.

Put together an interdisciplinary team that will work together to prevent and diffuse any incidents that happen.

Create a crisis response plan. This should have lay out what each person should do when an incident occurs and be shared with the entire company.

And don’t forget to train your staff.

How Online Workplace Violence Prevention Training Can Help

Providing training ensures that all staff knows what to do in each situation and is aware of any potential threats to security or safety. Workers will be able to identify suspicious behavior and language that could escalate to violence. It can also aid in developing a less hostile or toxic workplace by teaching employees to be empathetic and helps develop a culture of trust and respect.

Online training is quickly becoming the best way to teach employees some of the skills they need to help prevent and react to workplace violence. Numerous studies have shown that online training is often more effective, and learners retain more information than with classroom training alone.

BizLibrary curates a large and diverse video training library  with numerous courses focused on developing workplace violence prevention skills.

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