Glenn Drees

Tuesday, 22 March 2005 06:42

Turning the tide on workplace violence

When you hear the words "workplace violence," what's the first image that comes to mind? A violent rampage by a stressed-out postal worker?

Unfortunately, violence in the workplace doesn't just happen at one type of organization. Companies in all industries -- big or small, anywhere, at any time -- can be affected. And workplace violence is not limited to highly publicized tragic events.

According to published information from the FBI, workplace violence falls into four broad categories.

Type 1. Violent acts by criminals who have no other connection with the workplace but enter to commit robbery or another crime

Type 2. Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students or others for whom an organization provides services

Type 3. Violence committed by a present or former employee against coworkers, supervisors or managers

Type 4. Violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn't work there but has a personal relationship with an employee, such as an abusive spouse or domestic partner

Arm your company against violent acts

Prevention of workplace violence, as with most other risks, begins with formulating a plan. An organization will be better able to recognize the danger signs and defuse them before violence erupts if its executives have taken time to consider the issues.

Preparing policies, practices and structures to deal with workplace violence will allow for better crisis management and response should an act of violence occur. According to the FBI, effective plans are:

* Supported from the top down

* Customized to the needs, resources and circumstances of a particular employer and a particular work force

* Proactive rather than reactive

* Based on a multidisciplinary team approach that includes expertise from a number of perspectives

* Actively communicated throughout the workplace to ensure that everyone is aware of the warning signs, the violence prevention plan and response measures, and feels empowered to seek advice and assistance when a problem arises

* Rehearsed. No matter how thorough or well-conceived, preparation won't do any good if an emergency happens and no one remembers or carries out what was planned.

* Continually updated

What to include in your plan

Typically, workplace violence plans include the following elements.

A statement of the company's threats and violence policy. Created in writing and distributed to all employees, this statement defines what constitutes acceptable workplace behavior, which behaviors fall into the category of workplace violence and the penalties should an offense occur.

Procedures for preventive practices. Preventive measures can include pre-employment screening, identifying problem situations and risk factors, and security preparations.

Addressing threats and threatening behavior. This part of the plan identifies warning signs and the measures required to detect, assess and manage threats and behavior.

Designation and training of an incident response team. To encourage reporting, employers must create a climate in which all employees -- including management -- feel free to report disturbing incidents or possible danger signs.

Threat assessment. An employer's workplace violence prevention program should specify the personnel who will be specifically responsible for overseeing the organization's policy. Teams should have the authority, training and support needed to meet their responsibilities and access to outside threat assessment professionals as needed.

Training of different management and employee groups. Training should be provided on a regular basis to all employees and cover topics, including the workplace violence prevention policy, reporting requirements, risk factors, early recognition of warning signs and response plan.

Updates. All plans should be monitored and updated on a regular basis.

From decreased employee morale and productivity to an increase in the number of lawsuits and liability costs, workplace violence can negatively impact a company's ability to operate. In that sense, everyone is a victim when a violent act occurs. To encourage a workplace free of fear, develop a proactive work place violence program today.

Glenn Drees, one of the 27 employee-owners of SKS, the Midwest's leading independent insurance agency, has nearly 15 years of experience in risk management and loss prevention. Reach him at (513) 977-3171 or gdrees@sksins.com.