I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Marc McElhaney of Critical Response Associates last year when he helped our company create our Preventing Workplace Violence training course. Dr. McElhaney is a highly respected expert in assessing and resolving threats of violence, conflict and any kind of high-risk behavior, and he really opened my eyes as to how big the problem of workplace violence really is. He has been helping companies safely manage high risk situations for years – his stories are both fascinating and terrifying. Before meeting him, I had never really given much thought to the threat of workplace violence, having never experienced it. I wasn’t sure whether I was naïve or fortunate, but I realize now I was both.
Now that my eyes are open and I’m marketing the course and the workplace violence prevention solution that we offer with Dr. McElhaney, I’ve seen a lot of data on the problem of workplace violence and it’s downright scary. Most of us go to work each day and assume we’re in a safe environment and most of the time we probably are. Our employers must, per section 5(a) of the Occupational Safety And Health Act (also known as the General Duty Clause), provide us as employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
Is Workplace Violence Really a Big Deal?
The problem with workplace violence is it’s not always a recognized hazard. We may not know if an employee will react violently to being terminated or receiving a demotion or we may not see signs that someone could be dangerous.
But whether we recognize it or not, workplace violence is a big problem. How big? Foley Law and Dr. McElhaney shared some eye-popping statistics:
According to OSHA, more than half of all large employers reported at least one incident of violence over the prior year
Workplace homicide has been described as the fastest growing form of homicide in the country, accounting for 20% of all violent crime and increasing over 400% over the last decade.
One out of every four employees is attacked, threatened, harassed verbally or physically at work every year.
Homicide is the leading cause of death in the workplace for women and the second leading cause of death for men in the workplace.
There are 7000 homicides and approximately two million assaults and threats of violence per year in the workplace.
Wow. I find this scary as an employee, but also an executive, who cares about her employees, colleagues and this business. Workplace violence doesn’t just hurt people, it hurts businesses too; Dr. McElhaney notes that assaults at work cost an average of 3.5 lost days at work per incident, with annual total lost wages estimated to be more than $55 million.
The 4 Essentials in Effective Prevention of Workplace Violence Training
No company is immune to workplace violence so every company should prepare for it and, clearly, prevention of workplace violence training is an essential part of that preparation. Here are four essential components that your prevention of workplace violence training should cover for employees.
Your Workplace Violence Policy
As with most other areas of training, your prevention of workplace violence training should cover the content of the company’s policy and where the employees can find the policy. Most companies will have a “zero tolerance” policy toward behaviors such as threats, violence, bullying and harassment, but it’s worth having a separate policy on workplace violence rather than rolling that language into your harassment and discrimination policy. The policy should specify behaviors that are prohibited in the workplace and spell out each employee’s obligation to report situations of actual or suspected instances of workplace violence.
The Warning Signs
Employees need to understand, in a way that doesn’t induce paranoia, what behaviors may lead to violent conflicts. Foley Law identifies these as a sample:
Direct or implied verbal threats expressed by an employee about coworkers, management, customers, or family members
Expression of extreme fascination with weapons
Paranoid or other unusual behavior
Extreme adverse reaction to coaching, discipline, or constructive criticism
Manifestation of extreme depression, delusional behavior, and/or suicidal inclination
History of violent behavior
Romantic or other obsession with or stalking of an employee by a co-worker, spouse or other non-employee
It’s important that employees know what to look for and that it’s ok to report these types of behaviors. Paul Jaeb, founder of Heartland Investigative Group wrote that during follow-up investigations of several instances of workplace violence, he discovered that other employees and co-workers observed one or more of the above, but they often dismissed it as simply “weird behavior.” By dismissing it and not reporting it, they missed a chance to prevent the violence from occurring.
How to Report Suspicious Behavior
Employees must understand what to do when they witness suspicious behaviors like those outlined above. Do they inform their supervisors? Go directly to HR? Your company should have a detailed plan in place, which should include where employees should report. Ensure that this is communicated to employees via the prevention of workplace violence training.
Your Employees Need to Know You Have a Plan
All employees should receive the prevention of workplace violence training and that training should reassure them that your company has a detailed plan in place to not only prevent but to respond to incidents of workplace violence. Most of the employees taking the training are not going to be part of that plan but they need to know it exists. They will feel better knowing you have a “Threat Assessment Team” that has studied any past incidents that have occurred in your company. This team actively works to identify particular hazards, conditions and operational situations that could lead to violence. They will be encouraged to know that there is a “Crisis Response Management Plan” in place that details exactly who should be notified and that key team members have had crisis management training and have the communication skills to safely navigate a crisis.
There can be fewer things more important for a company than keeping its employees safe. Preventing workplace violence should be at the top of the list.