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January 19, 2016
Workplace violence prevention
By Ana Ellington, Legal Editor

Workplace violence is a growing problem in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 2 million workers are injured every year, and more than 800 die as a result of workplace violence. This has a devastating effect on the productivity of a business and on employees’ quality of life.

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Although dramatic multiple homicide incidents are highly publicized, they represent a very small number of workplace violence incidents. The majority of incidents that employers and employees deal with on a daily basis are cases of assaults, domestic violence, stalking, threats, harassment (to include sexual harassment), and physical and/or emotional abuse that make no headlines. And, many of these are not even reported to management. So, data on the exact extent of workplace violence are sketchy. Estimates of the costs, from lost work time and wages, reduced productivity, medical costs, workers’ compensation payments, and legal and security expenses are even less exact but clearly run into billions of dollars. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has estimated the annual cost of workplace violence on employers at $121 billion.

Like all violent crime, workplace violence creates ripples that go beyond what is done to a particular victim. It damages trust, community, and the sense of security every worker has a right to feel while on the job. In that sense, everyone loses when a violent act takes place, and everyone has a stake in efforts to stop violence from happening.

Employers have an obligation, under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, to provide a work environment free from threats and violence. This can be accomplished when employers commit to the following:

  • Adopt a workplace violence policy and prevention program, and communicate the policy and program to employees.
  • Provide regular training in preventive measures for all new/current employees, supervisors, and managers.
  • Support, don’t punish, victims of workplace or domestic violence.
  • Adopt and practice fair and consistent disciplinary procedures.
  • Foster a climate of trust and respect among workers and between employees and management.
  • When necessary, seek advice and assistance from outside resources, including threat-assessment professionals, social service agencies, and law enforcement.

Employees play a role in workplace violence prevention as well. They should:

  • Accept and adhere to the employer’s preventive policies and practices.
  • Become aware of and report violent or threatening behavior by coworkers.
  • Follow procedures established by the workplace violence prevention program, including those for reporting incidents.

As attention to the issue grows, safety pros agree that responding to workplace violence requires attention to more than just an actual physical attack. So, a workplace violence prevention program will be ineffective if it does not consider harassment, threats, and abuse of all kinds. A successful workplace violence prevention program must include training in violence prevention, threat detection, threat assessment, and threat management. And, in fact, this training should become part of the workplace culture.

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