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Stop violence with strong policy, calm approach

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in Employment Law,Firing,Hiring,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Preventing Workplace Violence

Courts say your company has a responsibility to keep workers and customers safe from dangers that it can "reasonably anticipate." With nearly 2 million assaults and threats of violence each year at American workplaces, that's a big responsibility.

Again this year, corporate security professionals at Fortune 1000 firms ranked workplace violence as their number one security concern, far above issues like Internet security or employee theft, according to a Pinkerton survey. Nearly a third of these big firms say violent incidents in their companies have increased.

Homicides are now the number two cause of work-related fatalities, second only to traffic accidents. Outsiders are responsible for more than two-thirds of workplace homicides, followed by co-workers and former co-workers (15 percent), acquaintances (7 percent) and relatives (4 percent).

Protection from outsiders

Several factors can heighten your company's risk of violence, specifically if you work with cash, work alone or in small groups, have lots of contact with the public and are located in a high-crime area.

One often-overlooked flashpoint is the health care industry. Nearly half of all nonfatal workplace assaults are caused by health care patients, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety.

Advice: Analyze the potential hazards in your workplace and train employees to be safe. Consider adding new alarm systems, physical barriers such as bullet-resistant panels, cash controls such as a drop safe, and ways to improve visibility such as brighter lights and convex mirrors.

A good resource: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has created recommendations for preventing violence in health care, taxi cabs, social services and late-night retail establishments. For more information, visit www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/index.html.

Protection from co-workers

People typically go "tick, tick" before they go "boom." Depression, hostility, a quick temper and inability to handle criticism all could be red flags. If one of your employees is the cause of violence, expect to be sued if you didn't note the warning signs and take action.

That's why it's important to make sure employees promptly report any threats or violent conduct, and that you document it. Other ways to head off violence and liability:

Tighten hiring procedures. Check applicants for criminal records. Verify past employment; applicants might not list an employer where they exhibited violent behavior. Make job offers conditional on passing a drug test.

During the interview, ask questions that probe the person's temper or attitude. For example, "Describe a time when you were treated unfairly and how you responded."

Establish a written zero-tolerance policy against threatening, intimidating or hostile acts. Ban weapons in the workplace, with the possible exception of designated, trained security personnel.

Offer an outlet for grievances, even for petty complaints, and require employees to report threats immediately.

Rethink the way you fire employees. Firings are one of the biggest catalysts for violence. Help avoid outbursts with these four tips: 

  • Keep it private. Have a witness, but don't invite others who have no reason to be there. 
  • Cut the drama. Never scream "You're fired." 
  • Let the employee vent. Summarize the reasons in tangible, nonemotional terms. Then let the employee have his say without being interrupted. 
  • Have his final paycheck ready. 

This lets him take something positive away.

Train front-line employees to keep an eye out for unusual behavior and report any threats. Teach them when to call police and when to get a manager.

One more option: Consider workplace violence insurance, which has gotten less expensive in recent years.

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