Workplace violence is a problem that spans socioeconomic boundaries and reaches across all types of organizations. Two million Americans report incidents of workplace violence every year.
While most attempts to mitigate workplace violence are based solely on security measures, there is a growing recognition that there must be solutions in place to address the problem early on – long before a violent act is committed.
It is in the spirit of such a proactive approach that The Joint Commission has released a report on violence in the workplace and tips to prevent it.
The Joint Commission is a nonprofit that works to accredit and certify health care organizations, but the report contains information that benefits all groups interested in mitigating the risk of violence in their workplace.
The following suggestions have been adapted from the report to serve as both a starting point for creating workplace violence mitigation programs and as a means to gauge the implementation of those already in place.
1. Define Workplace Violence and Encourage Reporting
To prevent workplace violence, a company must know what it is. A clear definition of the term is fundamental to a prevention strategy.
When thinking about workplace violence, remember that it can include verbal, physical, or even written behaviors. Any behavior meant to cause intimidation should also be considered. This would naturally include assault or the threat of assault.
Organizations should feel free to develop their own definition of workplace violence, but the U.S. Department of Labor defines it as:
“…an action (verbal, written, or physical aggression) which is intended to control or cause, or is capable of causing, death or serious bodily injury to oneself or others, or damage to property. Workplace violence includes abusive behavior toward authority, intimidating or harassing behavior, and threats.”
Equally important as a clear definition of the problem is a system to encourage and manage reporting. Reporting systems for workplace violence incidents must be accessible, simple, and secure. Anonymity and confidentiality must be guaranteed.
When creating a reporting system, bear in mind the responsibility of preventing and responding to workplace violence falls on the organization, not on the shoulders of the reporter or employee.
Employees must be encouraged to report incidents of workplace violence and leadership must demonstrate their willingness to address the issues and ensure no retaliatory actions are pursued.
A culture of consistent encouragement and openness around reporting can be fostered with regular meetings on the subject, training on reporting procedures, as well as awareness campaigns under the discretion of human resources departments or other knowledgeable staff.
2. Collect Reports on Workplace Violence
After comprehensive reporting systems are put in place, the focus turns to collecting and analyzing information. All reports about workplace violence must be captured – even those in which no harm was done.
One system to collect all incidents is best, but if an organization must have various reporting systems there should be procedures to aggregate the information.
The information collected should be compiled and distributed to leadership regularly, so trends can be recognized to create or modify policies.
3. Establish Follow-up Procedures
Follow-up protocols are needed. They may include counseling or other trauma-informed care. Remember, follow-up procedures may be necessary for more than just victims. A thorough system includes all impacted persons, including witnesses.
4. Identify Contributing Factors to Workplace Violence
Identifying contributing factors to workplace violence is one of the most proactive mitigation strategies organizations have at their disposal.
An ongoing analysis of reports should be conducted to identify priority hazards and situations. In addition to your own reporting records, reports and trends should be included in Workers Compensation records as well as OSHA logs.
Any interventions or procedural changes based on these analyses should be relayed immediately to staff to underscore the importance of reporting workplace violence.
5. Develop Initiatives to Reduce Workplace Violence
Initiatives to address and decrease workplace violence should be cost-effective and based on evidence-backed solutions. Avoid reactionary solutions that may not address the problem. Initiatives should also be customized to fit the department or unit.
For example, in a healthcare setting, an organization that serves a large proportion of high-stress clients or guests may benefit greatly from the installation of panic buttons or security systems, while a less tense environment may not benefit from such enhanced security measures.
Administrative areas shouldn’t be overlooked when brainstorming improvement initiatives. Changes may include enhancing entry and exit security, ensuring adequate staffing, and establishing and enforcing thorough identification procedures.
6. Train All Staff in De-escalation and Self-defense
Preventing workplace violence is a company-wide effort and every member should be asked to participate in creating a safe environment.
Interested members can help by studying de-escalation techniques. These techniques are extremely helpful in defusing situations where workplace violence may occur. Self-defense techniques may also be useful.
To accompany de-escalation and self-defense training, drills should be conducted for a variety of workplace violence scenarios ranging from an active shooter emergency to a display of verbal abuse.
7. Evaluate Workplace Violence Reduction Techniques
Workplace violence reduction measures are only worthwhile if they serve their purpose. With this in mind, the techniques must be periodically tested for efficacy. Start with the following when evaluating procedures:
- Review reporting instances and responses
- Locate and analyze trends in incidents
- Measure improvements or failures
- Survey employees for feedback on the reduction techniques
- Create a partnership with local law enforcement
- Identify emergency response times and use this information to create response procedures
Good Workplace Violence Mitigation Includes Prevention and Response
Workplace violence can occur at any type of organization. A successful strategy for combating workplace violence must include both prevention and response. Mitigation procedures can help minimize workplace violence incidents, but they aren’t always enough. If workplace violence does occur, an appropriate and comprehensive response is necessary.
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