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Workplace Violence

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  • Workplace Violence

    originally penned for my blog at

    If the recent studies are correct, going to work can be hazardous to our health. Historically, I suppose, it has always been so, but the miracle of modern media brings every heinous, outrageous and brutal episode into our homes for our analysis and comment.
    Workplace Violence has become one of those phrases recently that are destined to have desensitizing effect on the general population. Kind of like every act of violence being attributed to terrorism, the concept of genuine terror has been watered down to acceptable levels in society. Talking heads on the evening news have taken to referring to gang violence as “street terrorism.” Obviously, protecting a drug turf or enacting revenge for a perceived “dis” (as in disrespect), is indeed violence, but certainly not terrorism.
    Violence on the job can range from a hostile, unpleasant work environment to homicide. Current Department of Justice statistics reflect some sobering numbers.
    • About 2 million Americans are victims of assault
    • More than 1000 are killed
    • About 40,000 are victims of aggravated assault
    • 51,000 are raped and/or sexually assaulted
    Much of the violence on the job is the result of conventional criminal acts, such as robbery. However, distraught employees or acquaintances of employees are committing acts of violence at an alarming rate. Having spent the last twenty five years as a police officer, I can attest to the frustrations that the workplace can inflict on an employee. The comments that my non- police friends make about my coping ability reminds me that there are times when it takes a real effort to keep from “going postal.”
    As Protection Specialists, we are often asked to assess risks, both within the workplace and outside. It would be desirable to understand how a workplace threat assessment can be conducted. Depending on the nature of the business, the steps to conducting such an assessment may be modified, but basically, it is good to begin with a general crime prevention survey. Businesses that deal with the general public must provide obvious protection for its employees and customers, such as guards, cameras, panic alarms, glass partitions, first aid supplies, training and so on. These are areas which can be evaluated and documented by a simple checklist or walkthrough. Assessments are more complex and sensitive when dealing with an office or commercial setting.
    First and foremost, there must be a policy in effect that is understood and followed by all employees, especially management. A firm set of rules outlining acceptable forms of behavior needs to be strictly enforced by managers. A system of reporting, documentation, discipline, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and, support also needs to be utilized. Employees need to be encouraged to report incidents and know that their concerns will be addressed and kept confidential. Often, these concerns can develop into warning signs that will need to be monitored.
    The next area to be addressed is the actual threat assessment. All available intelligence on a particular situation needs to be analyzed and evaluated. This will assist the security designee the information needed to develop a violence prevention plan, the purpose being to reduce the likelihood of violence. As they say, forewarned is forearmed. Plans need to be flexible enough to evolve as the threat levels change.
    As much as possible, prevention is the preferred outcome of any program. Another area where you’re expertise may prove useful, is providing assault awareness and prevention training to employees. Teaching others how to survive violence is as much an exercise in confidence building, as it is a public service. As I previously stated, over exposure to media accounts of violence can desensitize us to violence. Such hands-on training can bring a sense reality and relevance to understanding workplace violence.
    Some suggestions for employees for dealing with threats and violence are as follows.
    • Keep the situation under control by remaining calm
    • Listen attentively to what is being said (or shouted).
    • Maintain eye contact, especially with angry customers
    • Speak in a soft voice
    • Be courteous and patient
    • If situation persists, notify a coworker or supervisor that you need assistance
    • If a weapon is involved, do not attempt to be a hero!
    • Preplan an escape route and strategy.
    Remember, all threats of violence need to be documented and reported to the proper authorities. Law enforcement can be helpful when there are threats, implied or actually stated. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention…..”