Are employers responsible for protecting their employees from workplace violence?
The short answer to this questions is a resounding -- YES! An employer cannot predict workplace violence but they can have procedures in place to help keep their employees safe. Even with acts of workplace violence on the rise in the United States, most employees are not thinking about this when they arrive at work.
They are thinking about the report that is due by the end of the week, the deadline for the department budget that is coming up, the new project that is to be presented at the Board meeting tonight, the employee interviews that they will be conducting this afternoon, or the speech they are giving at a Chamber of Commerce meeting at lunch.
Encountering a workplace violence incident is usually the last thing on their minds when they are getting their work "game face" on. Yet, statistics show that on an average day in the United States workforce, 70 workers are physically attacked, 16,400 are threatened, and 43,800 are harassed, and each year 2 million workers become victims of workplace violence.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires business owners to provide a working environment where employees can conduct their jobs safely.
Workplace violence can be classified as an unsafe working environment and thus, employers can be held liable under OSHA in the event someone is injured or killed in an act of workplace violence.
Employers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent a recognized violence hazard in the workplace can be cited. Even without the OSHA requirements, it's just the right thing to do for your employees.
So how does an employer go about protecting their employees in the workplace from a violent act? There are several steps that employers should take to alleviate the opportunity for workplace violence. The first one is to ensure there is a zero tolerance policy at work related to workplace violence.
It is critical that this is written as a policy. Any suggestion of a workplace violence act or a joke about another incident that took place somewhere else should be treated seriously and there must be rapid repercussions.
Secure the Workplace: All employees must be part of the effort to secure the workplace. Use electronic key cards, do not leave doors open, always carry identification badges, and challenge visitors who do not have identification.
These are a few of the things that employees can do and when this is mixed with alarm systems, surveillance cameras, lighting, and possibly security guards, you will have a winning combination.
Practice, Practice, Practice: If you do not practice your emergency preparedness procedures in the workplace you are not doing enough to plan for potential workplace violence events.
Businesses should have a written emergency plan for workplace violence and practice it, and then practice it again. Make it a quarterly or semi-annual training. If a business has an emergency plan for workplace violence and does not practice it, it is not worth the paper that it is written on. You need to be sure employees know what to do, whether you use the Run-Hide-Fight method or the A.L.I.C.E. method of responding to an active shooter.
A well informed employee is a safe employee.
Report Unusual Behavior: This is the old "if you see something, say something" slogan. If there is something unusual that does not look right, or something just doesn't feel right, say something about it.
Trust your gut. Don't be afraid to call out bad behavior. You do not need to confront anyone but let Human Resources or your manager know about it.
Culture of Security: By doing all of these things what you are doing is creating a "culture of security" within your business.
This means that all employees follow the security rules, they care and watch out for each other, and they are prepared in the event something unexpected occurs. This always starts at the top. If the boss or CEO makes security their priority, guess who else is going to make it their priority? The employees! I really enjoy it when I am at a business and I can see that the employees actually mean business when it comes to the security business.
This will have a positive effect not only on your employees but on your customers as well. Customers that feel safe within a business will respond very positively, and are more inclined to frequent that business on a regular basis.
Do the right thing and start creating a culture of security within your business today! It will have an immediate impact and lasting impression on keeping your employees safe.
If you are interested in further information or training on how to protect your employees and business, contact the Homeland Security Training Institute College of DuPage at 630-942-3723 or check us out at www.cod.edu/hsti.
• Thomas Brady is associate dean and director of the Homeland Security Training Institute at College of DuPage.