If you have a job — whether you work in an office, at home, or in a mobile workplace like an ambulance — you’re at some risk of becoming a victim of workplace violence. On average, each year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports two million instances of workplace violence. Of course, that number is likely low, since many cases go unreported. The point is that violence in the workplace is a real and present threat for many people going to work everyday — in fact, it’s the second leading cause of work-site deaths behind car accidents — and employers should take steps to manage the risk. A major safeguard, you’ll come to learn, is implementing workplace policies that directly address your employees’ safety and well-being.
The Nature of Workplace Violence in the US
Obviously, the risk of violence is not the same across the board; some occupations have more inherent risk than others. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) actually broke down which factors increase the risk of workplace violence when present:
- Contact with the public
- Exchange of money
- Delivery of passengers, goods, or services
- Having a mobile workplace such as a taxicab or police cruiser
- Working with unstable or volatile persons in health care, social service, or criminal justice settings
- Working alone or in small numbers
- Working late at night or during early morning hours
- Working in high-crime areas
- Guarding valuable property or possessions
- Working in community-based settings
When you consider the occupations in which these factors are present, it’s not surprising that healthcare workers are some of the most vulnerable. According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, although the healthcare and social assistance sectors account for 12.2% of the working population, nearly 75% of workplace assaults occurred in a healthcare setting. EMS personnel, ER nurses and physicians, personal care and nursing aides, staff working in psychiatric settings — all report disturbingly high instances of workplace violence.
Outside of the healthcare sector, workers employed in retail, hospitality, education, transportation, food service, and public safety also report higher than expected rates of workplace violence. You may assume that the pandemic forcing many employees to work remotely decreased violence in the workplace, but quite the opposite happened. Statistics on workplace violence show that the pandemic led to an increase or escalation of the issue, with workers who interact with the public reporting being verbally assaulted, spat on, slapped, and physically assaulted when trying to enforce social distancing, mask wearing and other safety measures.
For all employees, though, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress levels and lowered the threshold for confrontation. If your company hasn’t made a concerted effort to curb workplace violence — or hasn’t done so in a while — now is the perfect time to tackle this issue and make your employees safer in these turbulent times.
Curbing Workplace Violence
Cases of workplace violence can be sorted into four categories:
- Criminal Intent: The perpetrator doesn’t have a legitimate relationship with the business. Violent acts are usually committed with other offenses, such as theft.
- Worker-on-Worker: The perpetrator is a current or former employee of the business.
- Customer/Client: The perpetrator does have a legitimate relationship with the business, either being a customer, client, or patient.
- Personal Relationship: The perpetrator doesn’t have a relationship with the business, but does have a relationship with the intended victim(s), such as domestic violence that spills over into the workplace.
While each type of violence requires its own specific workplace policies to address the risks, all of the policies will either approach the issue of safety from an environmental, administrative, or behavioral perspective. As you look critically at all aspects of your business to determine the best course of action for reducing violence, consider these three areas: the physical workplace, the operations, and the employees themselves.
Environmental: Workplace policies that concern the environment will seek to make changes to give the company as much control as possible over where and how employees work. For example, you can mandate the use of locked safes and restrict the number of employees who have access to them. You can also examine your current procedures to determine if there are any opportunities to keep employees physically separate from the public. Examples of this strategy can be seen at many businesses such as movie theaters and pharmacies to protect workers. When looking at the environment, though, don’t overthink it. Often, simple changes like improving lighting could be a huge benefit to worker safety.
Administrative: Another aspect of workplace safety is reviewing how you run your business. Administrative workplace policies may concern issues such as scheduling — ensuring that nobody ever works a shift alone — or reporting procedures — developing a system that allows employees to safely report harassment, violence, and other troubling behaviors. Other administrative actions you can take may include mandating limits on how much cash employees can carry, changing opening and closing procedures, or limiting the number of entrances and exits to the workplace.
Behavioral: While a company should do what it can to control the environment and operations, you have to recognize the human component in every situation. To that end, workplace policies should specifically address employees’ behavior and take steps to modify it. These policies should focus on increasing awareness among personnel and training them to respond appropriately to threats of violence. In addition to training nonviolent response and conflict resolution strategies, reducing risk requires a comprehensive prevention strategy that emphasizes maintaining environmental safeguards, complying with administrative controls, and remaining alert and vigilant to the warning signs of workplace violence.
How Workplace Policies and Procedures Will Fit Into Your Strategy
Once your company determines the risk reduction strategies that will be the most successful in your workplace, developing policies and procedures should be the next step. Workplace policies set a standard for preventing, preparing for, responding to, and reporting instances of workplace violence.
Zero-tolerance policies: The first policy you absolutely need to develop if you don’t already have one in place is a zero-tolerance policy regarding violence or threats of violence in the workplace. This policy should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel, and it should clearly state the consequences of perpetrating what your company considers to be violent behavior. For its part, OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site”, and they include everything from verbal threats to homicides in their definition. If you’re struggling to define what constitutes workplace violence, this definition is a good place to start.
Awareness Education and Training: One of the best ways to help all of your employees feel safe at work is to arm them with the tools to recognize and react to potentially violent situations. Policies developed should cover how to identify potential workplace violence situations, techniques to stop escalating situations, security procedures to ensure safety during violent situations, and identifying signs and symptoms of domestic violence.
Proactive Policies: Before a situation ever escalates to violence, there are a number of measures companies can institute to reduce the risk of violence in the workplace. These can include requiring background checks for new hires, regularly evaluating hiring procedures, scheduling evaluations for personnel working in stressful positions, offering and encouraging counseling, and more. The goal in implementing proactive policies is that hopefully you can catch a situation before it ever has a chance to escalate and pose a threat to employees.
Workplace violence prevention is an ongoing, evolving issue, though, one calling for continuing updates to policies and procedures. Don’t simply create these workplace policies and forget about them. It’s important to regularly audit yourself to make sure you’re doing everything you could be doing to protect employees and maintain a safe, productive workplace.
Create a Safe Workplace With ComplianceBridge
If the backbone of a durable workplace violence prevention strategy are the policies and procedures, then you don’t want to let policy management become an afterthought. ComplianceBridge streamlines each stage of the policy management life cycle. During policy creation, everyone collaborates on the same policy document, and automatic workflows ensure that policies and procedures don’t get stuck in review and approval.
When it’s time to publish, send new policies and procedures to exactly who needs them. Choose recipients individually, by groups, and custom distribution lists. ComplianceBridge will even notify users when new tasks have been assigned to them. These reminders will escalate until they’ve completed the required action.
When necessary, require employees to acknowledge new policies and procedures. You can even build custom quizzes to test their understanding of them. These quizzes can be as simple or complex as you need them to be. Results from policy quizzes can be viewed in real-time before recipients have even finished answering all of the questions. With so much visibility into results, you can see which questions are giving employees the most trouble and where policy content may be unclear.
ComplianceBridge makes policy management simple for the entire organization. Whether you’re a member of a policy committee responsible for crafting new safety measures or you are an employee searching the policy library for guidance, our system relieves the pain points common with workplace policies and procedures. To see the full extent and power of our system for ourselves, request a demo with ComplianceBridge today.