Preventing Workplace Violence in the Public Sector

Violence is pervasive in our everyday lives. Ever since the human species inhabited earth, violence has been part and parcel of everyday experience. Violence is unfortunate but completely unavoidable in the society. At work violence has emerged as an integral safety and health issue. In the workplace, employers and employees have to deal with signs and incidences of violence as fundamental issues in occupational safety.

Workplace presents as a specialized scenario because unlike the larger social sphere where violence cannot be completely prevented or eliminated, the work environment presents wonderful opportunities for preventing the occurrence of violence. Security professionals have to design novel and highly comprehensive strategies aimed at limiting any chance of violent confrontations among employees or between employees and their employers. The problem of violence pervades every conceivable nature of business.

Whether it is in a small private business enterprise of the sprawling government facilities workplace violence is a reality that has to be minimized through countless strategies. Workplace violence has been given several definitions. According to the United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace violence is defined as, “Violence or the threat of violence against workers. Violence can occur at the physical Workplace or outside the workplace (such as a taxi cab driver) and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job

related deaths [in the United States]. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide” (Conley 2003 p. 145). Rapp-Paglicci et al (2002), defines violence at work as, “any physical or psychological act against an employee, including physical or verbal assaults, threats, coercion, intimidation or other harassment (p. 349). Preventing Workplace Violence Security measures taken to prevent workplace violence are geared towards the protection of people, property and information in that order of priority.

The importance of ensuring that people comes first in any organizational security program is due to the fact that in cases of any incidence of workplace violence affects not only the participants in the violence but also their workmates and families. The prevention of workplace violence is first and foremost, the responsibility of the security department in any organization. Every single officer in the security department needs to be fully included in the development of a comprehensive security program to ensure maximum success.

Given that security personnel are often the first individuals to be called to the violence scene, it implies that such officers must possess the appropriate professional training coupled to a personal demeanor that is not only crucial in the response but also in the successful management of an incidence of violence in the workplace. Intuitively, every organization understands that violence in the workplace is not a current phenomenon but that it has existed ever since the first organizations were formed.

However, it is only due to current research that the scope of the problem in terms of statistical representations has gained popularity. The availability of date testifies that workplace violence is not only a personal security issue but also a significant public health problem. Moreover, it has also been demonstrated that homicide in the workplace is the main cause of occupational injury death. A study covering workplace violence between 1980-1985 established that 33% of workplace violence cases were accounted for by retail trade; service industry accounted for 19%, while government services accounted for 11 %( Conley 2003).

The ILO code of practice offers several insights on the prevention of violence in the workplace. In recognition of the extent and severity of violence in the workplace, International Labor Organization (ILO) convened a Meeting of Experts in Geneva, 2003 and came up with a number of recommendations that are extremely useful in solving workplace violence. The working papers showed that millions of workers are affected by workplace violence and that violence negatively impacts on quality of service, decent work and productivity.

From industrialized to developing countries, across different professions and industries, and in private and public sectors violence at work had become so severe that urgent measures needed to be enlisted to calm the tide. Violence is blight to interpersonal relationships; it negatively affects trust between employees, disrupts efficient and effective service delivery and turns the workplace into an unwelcome and dangerous environment. The ILO code of practice is focused on the prevention of violence before it occurs.

In the even of a violent incident, then the code recommends that organizations adopt measures to mitigate against adverse consequences, stress consequences included. The codes also primarily emphasize on the pursuance of proactive preventive approaches that takes into consideration health management and occupational healthy (Chappell & Di Martino 2006). Taken in context, the principles outlined in the code include: The public sector should institute measures geared towards the creation of a healthy and safe workplace environment in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Convention provisions of 1981.

This measure would promote optimal mental and physical health hence preventing workplace environment. The second principle espoused by ILO codes is the need to promote social dialogue between workers; between workers and employers and between, workers, employers and their representatives. Such a move is successfully implemented buttresses organizationally adopted internal non-violence policies and programs. The result is a safe, violence free workplace.

The third principle is directed towards the legislation or institution of anti-violence policies that are also directed towards the culturing of mutual respect, elimination of discrimination and promotion of decent work. Finally, gender equality should be espoused by public sector institutions to combat incidences of gender related workplace violence (Chappell & Di Martino 2006). In order to put in place measures to prevent workplace violence, it is prudent to note that violence can either be perpetuated by internal factors like disgruntled coworkers or external factors as in robberies.

In context, external sources of workplace violence refers to persons who are not employees of that specific organization whole external sources refer to employees of an organization. The majority of workplace violent acts are committed by non employees. Contrarily, internally perpetuated workplace violence usually involves employees or contractors physically assaulting other employees. Another factor that should be taken into account is the probability of workplace violence. Research has established that retail workers and taxi drivers are more likely to engage in workplace violence comparative to other professions (Conley 2003).

This predictability of violence is a key ingredient in the establishment of a security program. Since the occurrence of violence in the public sector is somewhat predictable, measures should be taken to ensure that the threat to employee safety is minimized. Security professionals in charge of the implementation of the organizational security program should be vigilant and cognizant of the likelihood of violence occurring in the workplace. This calls for adequate preparation for the likelihood of an incident. In the case of an external threat, this is much easier. Internal sources of violence as much more difficult to prevent.

However, there is no question that workplace violence threats increase levels of anxiety among the organizational leaders. Fortunately, it has also been established that it is only in very few cases that such threats materialize into actual violent crimes. Preventing internal violent incidents can be achieved through proper intervention mechanisms to avoid an escalation. Prevention is key to workplace safety. In many cases, people who have perpetrated violence did display signs before the actual violence. Professional security personnel should have the capacity to detect these tell-tale signs before they escalate to actual violent acts.

Knowledge of the factors that precipitate violence in the workplace is very crucial. It has been proposed that measures taken to prevent violence originating from internal sources can only succeed if there is increased awareness of the psychological factors which may precipitate violent behavior. Several researchers have tabled findings which attest to the substantial differences in the propensity or ability to aggravate. While certain individuals may mildly respond to very high levels of aggression, others possess disproportionately respond to mild forms of aggression or annoyance.

When such a scenario is analyzed in the context of situational and social factors, an individual’s sustainability to aggression can be determined. The whole scenario justifies the fact that our internal psychological status and the level of our cognitive approval profoundly influence our action and with extension, our response to aggression even in the work place (Rapp-Paglicci et al 2002). Unpleasant psychological arousal and negative moods negatively impact on our memories and thoughts and may evoke annoyance, anger and irritation.

Aggression related thoughts in persons with personality traits that predispose them to unacceptable behaviors may worsen a mild aggression in the workplace leading to an escalation of a mere trifle to a serious violent incident. Institutions should have information on the profiles of violent persons within their workforce. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), persons who are more likely to commit violent acts are most likely White males in the 30-40 age brackets and possess a keen fascination in weapons like guns.

Additionally, such persons may also hold irrational beliefs or ideas, display unwarranted anger, unable to take criticism, have exceptional stress due to family problems like divorce or have serious financial problems, have little concern over the safety of other employees (Rapp-Paglicci et al 2002). To prevent violence in the work place, the organization should be able to detect homicide prone workers because such workers are often narcissistic, controlling and demanding. Their role models are fascists. They may be attracted to survivalist organizations, law enforcement agencies and paramilitary groups.

It has also been established that many workers who offend often express profound interest in violent acts or are often extremely angry if such acts occur. They may not be people oriented but rather task oriented (Rapp-Paglicci et al 2002). Other profiles of a violent person may include low self esteem, history of aggression, history of alcohol, drugs and substance abuse and complaints of stress. If the organization successfully single out such characters they may be able to prevent the occurrence of a violent act.

With regard to personality differences and their relationship with workplace violence, the public sector needs to create a working environment governed by honesty so as to promote the transparent airing of grievances between the employees and employers. When employees are constantly treated with trust, dignity and respect they become less prone to resorting to violence to solve their grievances. Adequate job compensation eliminates financially related stress hence promoting the financial well being of the institution.

The leadership should also communicate a policy to employees as concerns violence at work while at the same time punish unacceptable behavior to deter any future occurrence of similar acts. Screening for violence prone individuals should be included in the hiring process. By eliminating violent characters from the workplace, an organization directly prevents the possibility of such a person bringing huge economic and social losses to the organization. Preemployment screening procedures basically allow the employers to critically analyze the background information about the applicants in question.

For applicants with a criminal record, a lease should be signed between such an individual and the employer so as to authorize the hirer to access past criminal records. Information on previous employment history details the character in question. Financial records, military records or any other relevant records are also extremely useful. Additionally, employers should also randomly test for drug and alcohol use. Individuals who fail drug and alcohol tests should simply be terminated from the hiring process. Such strict hiring procedures, while providing pertinent information about an individual, also act as a deterrent.

Individuals who possibly know that they are violent and may not effectively work with other colleagues in a violence free environment will most likely drop out of the application process even before they reach the necessary tests. Such an elimination of any violent characters from the workforce ensures that employees and employers are safe and that negative socioeconomic costs of violence in the workplace are minimized, if not eliminated. However, in the punishment of unacceptable behavior, organizations should not forget that the top leadership may have been directly responsible for such an eventuality.

Under the concept of persecutory organizational identity, employees may feel powerless and disrespected if the executive constantly persecutes them. The nature of the emotional relationship between the employees, their leaders and the top management directly affects communication in the organization hence predisposing the workplace to violence incidences. More pointedly, organizations where workers do not participate in active communication with top management generally have low levels of mutual respect between the parties. Top down decisions often elicit feelings of disrespect and mistreatment.

Avoidance of employee problems is courting disaster. As a preventive measure, public sector institutions should embrace collective problem solving and promote mutual respect. Engaging employees in collaborative problem resolution mechanisms is an important component of preventing workplace violence. Confronting violence in the workplace requires a comprehensive approach. A single solution may not suffice due to the many causes of violence. Moreover, workplace violence is not an episodic event perpetuated by a single individual.

In many cases, the problem is often structural and strategic with deep roots in social, cultural, economic and organizational factors. Since workplace violence is detrimental to the functionality of the workplace it is instrumental that urgent measures be adopted to promote the sound operation of all organizations in the public sector. Response to violence should not be limited to solving the violent incidents but rather, response should be directed at the root causes of violence rather than its effects. Such a framework is thus, not only preventive but also systematic and targeted (Heitmeyer & Hagan 2005).

Formulation of workplace anti-violence policies and programs should take into account the need to issue legislations and guidelines supporting non-violence; disseminate information on positive interpersonal workplace relationships; enhance the quality of workplace environment; involve all employees in active organizational engagement; counsel and support all individuals that have been affected by violence; and use such experiences to reshape preventive policies on a continuous basis. This whole scenario demonstrates a program grounded on normative underpinning rather than a socioeconomic one.

The beauty of the normative approach is that it fundamentally improves organizational and personal development. Mere enforcement of legislations and policies is irrelevant in the current framework of operations be it in an industrialized economy or a developing one. It is not even beneficial in a micro, virtual, informal workplace environment. Violence in the workplace detrimentally affects the performance and efficiency of an organization. The huge economic costs that accrue due to workplace violence calls for the elimination of exploitation and intimidation at work if such incidences are to significantly minimized.

The most appropriate preventive response is to ensure that public sector policies strive to promote workers safety, health and well being. This is because all these facets of an individual’s life are integral to enterprise growth. This comfortably shifts the focus from economic costs of violence to the promotion of intangible assets such as improving knowledge acquisition, learning opportunities, quality workplace environment and most importantly, ensuring that workers are completely incompatible with any notion of violence in the workplace.

This approach succeeds in linking both the safety and health issues with developmental and managerial issues. The net result is the presence of immediate, self sustainable action tools that prevent the occurrence of violence in the workplace on a continuous basis (Heitmeyer & Hagan 2005). To establish a successful preventive framework, initiatives should also be taken with regard to the multiplicity of hazards that are closely linked with violence at work. Several studies have successfully established that there exists a link between workplace violence, alcohol and drug use, tobacco use, stress and even diseases like HIV/AIDS.

The public measure having recognized such linkages should take additional steps to create awareness on the problem of workplace violence. Public health initiatives are crucial in determining the causes of violence and mitigating their consequences. At every possible level of society, violence should be shunned and anti-violence mechanisms put in place. The government can play an important role in organizing policy discussions and endorsing the resolutions from such discussions. Additionally, governments should drive implementation of such policies. Conclusion

Formulation of workplace anti-violence policies and programs should take into account the need to issue legislations and guidelines supporting non-violence; disseminate information on positive interpersonal workplace relationships; enhance the quality of workplace environment; involve all employees in active organizational engagement; counsel and support all individuals that have been affected by violence; and use such experiences to reshape preventive policies on a continuous basis. An amalgamation of this entire factor in a comprehensive workplace safety program is instrumental in the sustainable prevention of workplace violence.

References Chappell, D & Di Martino, V. (2006). Violence at work. International Labor Office. 3rd Edition. International Labor Organization, 270-287 Conley, T. M. (2003). Workplace Violence. In, Protection officer training manual. International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO), 7th Edition. Butterworth-Heinemann, 145-152 Heitmeyer, W. , & Hagan, J. (2005). International Handbook of Violence Research. Springer, 895-902 Rapp-Paglicci, L. A. , Roberts, A. R. , & Wodarski, J. S. (2002). Handbook of Violence. John Wiley and Sons, 349-356