More than 2 million workers are victims of workplace violence every year. While healthcare clearly leads the industries reporting workplace violence, many other industries are also at risk. Employers and payers can significantly impact the rate of violent incidents by understanding the risks unique to their industries and worksites and developing strategies to mitigate them.
OSHA defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. That includes everything from verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.
The most recent statistics show that violence in workplaces is increasing, despite lower overall crime among the general population – including homicides. In healthcare, the numbers are 7.8 cases of workplace violence for every 10,000 employees. In the sales industry, half of the work-related deaths are due to homicide. School districts also report higher rates of violence, aside from the much-publicized mass shootings.
Despite the high prevalence of workplace violence incidents more than 70 percent of U.S. workplaces do not have a formal program or policy that addresses the issue, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Create the Policy
There are three steps to creating a violence-free workplace.
- Assess the risk. First, you need to determine the violence hazards affecting your workforce. They could vary among employees. A healthcare establishment, for example, could have staffers who deal with potentially violent patients in the emergency room, along with nurses in the field. The risks facing each are very different.
ER workers should be aware of potential incidents not only from patients themselves but from family members who may become frustrated. A nurse who conducts home health visits may be vulnerable to risks because she or he is alone. The home health worker should know to ask questions, such as whether there are firearms in the home.
Some ways to assess the risks facing your organization include
- Find out from staff members whether, where and when they feel threatened.
- Review past records. Incident reports can reveal areas where violence has occurred, and they should be a focus of prevention policies.
- Check the research. Studies provide clues to areas vulnerable to violence. Within healthcare facilities, inpatient and acute psychiatric services, geriatric long-term care settings, and urban ERs have been shown to be at higher risk than some other areas.
- Walk the grounds. Are there areas where outsiders can easily gain access undetected? Are there nearby parks where unsavory types congregate? Are there particular areas inside that are at high risk? These are locations where your policy can target safety efforts, such as a door in a remote part of the building that can be entered only by someone with a security badge.
- Gauge staff understanding. It is vitally important that employees know what to do if a situation begins to get out of hand; otherwise, you run the risk of a controllable incident getting out of control. Do workers know whom and/or where to call? Is there a special emergency security code to dial and are they aware of it? Do they know what terminology to use in an emergency?
- Prevention/control. The information gathered during the risk assessment can be used to write the specific policies and procedures to minimize risks. While every workplace is unique, several elements should be considered for inclusion in the policy:
- Strong pre-hire checks. In addition to the usual application and face-to-face interviews, employers should undertake background investigations, criminal history checks, drug testing and reference checks.
- Roles during crises. Employees should know what to do and where to go if violence erupts.
- Communication. If an incident occurs, it’s imperative to try to at least contain the situation. You should outline ways to communicate with workers so they can avoid the area in question, call for help, and warn others.
- Reporting channels. Employees should feel comfortable and know how and where to report any suspicious behavior, as that can prevent a violent situation. The person(s) receiving the report should understand how to respond; such as alerting authorities and/or undertaking investigations.
- Penalties. The policy should clearly spell out unacceptable behaviors and have associated penalties, such as suspension or termination.
- Train. A policy only works if all involved are aware of it, understand it, and know what to do in a given situation. Ongoing training should be conducted, at least on an annual basis and with any new hires. The training should include:
- A review of the policy.
- Role playing various scenarios that could occur. Employees should play the role of both the victim and the perpetrator to get an idea of how both sides work.
- Personal insights. People who have experienced violent situations in that or similar workplaces should be available to discuss the realities of a violent situation.
Violence can occur in any workplace at any time. By understanding the risks, developing policies to address them, and ensuring all employees have clear expectations, employers can significantly reduce the chances of tragedy in their companies.