Safety, Prevention Important in Workplace Violence

The numbers are staggering:--Two million workers are victims of violence each year.—One in six violent crimes in the United States occurs at work.—Violence is the leading cause of death in the workplace.Those statistics capture the enormity of occupational violence, says Bob Carroll of Affinity Occupational Health’s Employee Assistance Program."Workplace violence is an important safety and health issue today," he said during a recent gathering hosted by Affinity Occupational Health at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton.Workplace violence isn’t just about a convenience clerk being robbed late at night, it’s also when someone throws books or lamps around or a customer who makes verbal threats, Carroll said."There are so many factors that come into play. When the economy is bad or the Packers lose, people get angry and upset and they are looking for some way to vent," he said.Employers need to recognize t! he risk factors, and do what they can to make the situation safer, Carroll said.Those in the highest risk categories include people who have a lot contact with the public; those who handle money; deliverymen and women; those working late at night or early in the morning; and working in a high-crime area.Employers can survey their workspace and make changes to cut down the risk factors, Carroll said. For example, employers can increase lighting in parking areas, trim back bushes where people could potentially hide, install drop safes and install detectors that go off when someone enters the store or office."But you need to look at how the safety devices affect your business," he said. "You don’t want to be unfriendly to customers. You need to find a balance between keeping your workers safe and making the place inviting for customers."John DeLong, public information officer for the Appleton Police Department, said some businesses contact him about doing presentations about maki! ng the workplace safer. "But I wish more would call," he said."Security presentations really put employees at ease. It lets them know that management has a plan if something happens and it shows that management cares about the issue," DeLong continued.During a typical presentation, DeLong said he tells employees what to look out for and what they should do if they suspect violence."We also take a look at outside influences that could trigger a case of workplace violence," he said.For example, DeLong will walk around a business and look for danger signs, such as unlocked doors or how easy it would be for a stranger to move freely through the building without being questioned."I call it the old hardhat test. A lot of people see someone wearing one and think he’s from the utility (company) ... so they don’t question it. My advice is to keep an eye on who’s coming and going and if they are supposed to be there," he said."You have to educate your workers! about what to look for and who you have to be worried about," Carroll said.Workers who have a history of violence, mental illness, a drug or alcohol problem or chronically blame other people for everything that goes wrong should send up a warning flag to employers, Carroll said."People just seem a lot angrier today. Tensions can build up at home or somewhere else and that can spill over to the workplace," he said.Companies need to develop plans on how to deal with workplace violence—and then make sure those plans are enforced, Carroll said."You have to make training a practice -- don’t just make information about workplace violence just something you do at orientation or have hidden away in a manual someplace," he said. "It’s important to follow through with the policies in place when something happens so employees know you’re serious."DeLong said he can look at a company’s written security policies and identify potential problems.! "You can say you will search briefcases, but what if you find something? You have to write what you’ll do," he said.Carroll said companies need to define what violence is—is it throwing something or kicking things around the office? Does yelling at a co-worker or boss count?"That’s a decision every company needs to make. You need to create—and then share with your workers—a policy of violence prevention," he said."You have to take incidents seriously and just not write them off."When forming a plan for the business, Carroll said it’s key to get workers involved. He said employees understand the dangers of the workplace and may have some creative ideas on how to deal with the problems."By getting them involved, you’re showing them that you care," Carroll said."Employees are more interested and involved in a program if they had some hand in its creation."If a violent situation develops, Carroll said how you act can determine the situation’s outcome! ."If someone makes a threat or starts slamming things around, just stay alert and calm. Talk positively with the person and try not to get defensive," he said. "Give the person choices of how to resolve the situation without violence."Bosses need to think ahead, too, Carroll said.If they are taking a potentially violent worker into their office, keep the door open or arrange the office in such a way that the person can’t block the door if you want to get out, he said."You just need to think ahead and look at the situation and your surroundings," Carroll said.ON THE SAFE SIDE: How employers can make their workplaces safer:--Increase lighting—Use drop safes—Video surveillance—Place height markers by exit doors—Use door detectors and buzzers—Install alarms - both audible and silent—Install bullet resistance barriers—Lock delivery doors—Lock doors when not open—Limit access to employees’ workspace—Adopt safety procedures for offsite work. For example, if y! ou are out working out of the office, set up pre-arranged times when you’ll call to check in.Source: Bob Carroll of Affinity Occupational Health’s Employee Assistance Program-----