Workplace violence is a serious occupational health and safety issue, but employers are making some serious mistakes in this area, according to a keynote speaker at the National Safety Council’s annual conference in Anaheim, Calif. on Tuesday.
Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other disruptive behaviour, such as verbal abuse, physical assault or unwanted sexual advances.
The first mistake employers are making is around policies. They are either misunderstood, non-existent or incomplete, said Carol Cambridge, CEO and founder of Violence Free, an international consulting firm in Phoenix.
“There is an extreme when I look at workplace violence policies: they are either so complicated that I need to hire a lawyer myself after reading it four or five times, I can’t even follow it, or they are so vague that they just don’t have enough information,” she said.
She recommends policies be written in grade 8 language so they can be easily understood by all employees. It’s also important the policy has a reporting system built in so workers know exactly who to turn to if they are a victim of or witness to workplace violence.
The 400 session attendees were asked to participate in a poll throughout the session via their smartphones, and 52 per cent of them said they had a workplace violence policy in place that is easily understood and accessible to all workers.
The second mistake is not handling threats properly. Oftentimes, a threat is observed by an individual who does not take it seriously. To prevent this, a threat assessment team needs to be in place.
“The reason you have the team is simply to have a group of people who are analyzing the data, analyzing the information and analyzing the level of risk,” Cambridge said. “You want to asses the risk, not create an opinion.”
The third mistake is assuming people know what to do. There are many reasons people don’t report workplace violence — they are afraid of getting involved, they are afraid of being bullied or they are afraid they won’t be believed, she said.
“Remember when you were a kid, how many of you got told ‘Don’t be a snitch, don’t tell on your brother, don’t tell on your sister.’ We hear these messages our whole life; things don’t change when we get into the workplace. We hold those beliefs, those feelings.”
The fourth mistake is not having a relationship with the police. Employers need to build a relationship with their local police department and find out what the expectations would be in a crisis situation, such as an active shooter.
According to the in-session poll, 81 per cent of attendees said their company is not prepared for an active shooter incident.
The fifth mistake is a disconnect between the human resources, security, health and safety and facilities departments. In big companies, they don’t work together in areas where they should be, such as high-risk terminations or threats, Cambridge said.
Or if the company is small, one person is responsible for all these aspects.
The sixth mistake is minimal or no training for workplace violence.
“This can be a really boring subject, You need somebody who can bring it to life, who can share stories, case studies, get adults involved,” she said. “The talking head scenario no longer works.”
Even the companies who do training often don’t do enough for retention and keeping workplace violence top of mind.
The last mistake is companies don’t stop and take the time to identify their gaps and vulnerabilities.
“You need to identify what your unique situations are. What’s different about your company? Is it a 24 hour retail store? Is it a manufacturer where you keep your doors open all the time? Are you in a nursing home facility? What is your unique situation that you need to be aware of and identify?”
It’s also important that everyone in the company understand what the red flags are. Some red flags include noticeable behaviour change, anger management issues, suicidal comments, fascination with other violent incidents, bullying, paranoia or ominous threats.
There isn’t any one thing that is an indicator or predictor of violence, it’s usually a combination, said Cambridge.
“It’s when the pressure is on in their personal life — a financial crisis, a domestic situation, it could be a health issue — it’s when people are very desperate and they don’t know what else to do, violence erupts.”
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