Violence in the workplace

Violence in the workplace is the number one killer of the American Worker. The Health and Safety Executive's definition of workplace violence is "any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in a circumstances relating to their work". Each year there are 2,000,000 assaults in the workplace, 51,000 rapes or other sexual assaults and 1,000 murders that are reported by employers. According to experts there are four more violent occurrences for every one assault reported.

Employers' deal with these issues everyday and prevention awareness by the Human Resource Director is the key to solving this problem Both the employer and the employee have an interest in reducing violence at work. For employers, violence can lead to poor morale and a poor image for the organization, making it difficult to recruit and keep staff. It can mean extra cost with absenteeism, higher insurance premiums and compensation payments. For employees, violence can cause pain, distress and even disability or death.

Physical attacks are obviously dangerous but serious and persistent verbal abuse and threats can also damage an employees' health through anxiety and stress. Our employers are deeply concerned for out safety and the safety of our loved ones now more than ever due to the recent events of 9/11. However, before then American employers did little to protect workers from work place violence largely because they did not realize the magnitude of the problem because OHSA did not require them to take protective measures.

NASP found that another reason employers failed to address the workplace violence problem was that safety professionals felt it was a security issue, while security professionals felt is was a safety issue. In most business and industry Human Resources provides the oversight for security and safety and so should logically serve as a bridge between them. Effective workplace violence prevention programs are a great way to reduce workplace violence. These programs should include physical security, pre-employment screening, good termination practices, employee assistance programs, out placement and a host of other options.

There are courses designed for security personnel and include sections on implementing a "Work Safe" environment as well as threat assessment, incident management and conflict resolution. HR managers should also consider a course that prepares the manager to train employees about workplace hazards and vulnerability. According to the government's Violence at Work guide for employers handbook there are four stages of effective management of violence. The first stage is finding out if there is a problem. The HR Director should do a risk assessment and identify hazards of work place violence.

Short questionnaires are a good way for managers and supervisors to recognize if there is a problem. The result would be to find out whether or not employees ever feel threatened. It is a good idea to record incidents, including verbal abuse and threats. For each incident an account of what happened needs to be recorded. It is very important to obtain details from the victim, assailant and any witnesses. Also, there should be a write up on the outcome, including working time lost to both individuals affected and to the organization as a whole.

There are many reasons that some employees may be reluctant to report incidents of aggressive behavior that makes them feel worried or threatened. They may feel that accepting abuse is part of the job. The HR Director should encourage employees to report incidents as soon as they occur so that a clear detailed picture of the problem can be fully examined so that action can be taken. Deciding what action to take is the second stage. After finding out what violence could be a problem the HR Director needs to decide what needs to be done.

The risk assessment should continue to find out what which employees are at risk and what actions to take to minimize the chance for violence to occur. Employees that have face-to-face contact with the public are normally the most vulnerable. Employees should be trained so that they can spot the early signs of aggression and either avoid it or cope with it. Employees also need to be provided with information they might need to identify clients with a history of violence or to anticipate factors, which make violence more likely.