Increasingly, employees want to know: What are you doing to keep us safe?
In May of 2017, an armed man with a history of domestic violence approached a nursing home where his ex-girlfriend worked. In a short period of time, he took two men hostage and killed three people, then turned the gun on himself. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), homicide is the fourth leading cause of workplace deaths. To keep employees safe, HR needs to develop holistic programs addressing mental as well as physical health, plus stress management and financial well-being.
Factors contributing to violent incidents include mental illness and domestic disputes, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). There are some warning signs to watch for, including unexplained absenteeism, behavioral changes (such as a usually easy-going person who becomes short-tempered), decline in job performance, emotional outbursts, and/or threatening comments. It is important not to excuse or ignore any of these signs. Even if they don’t lead to violence, they are red flags that deserve attention.
Central to preventing workplace violence is an effective employee assistance program (EAP) that significantly reduces the amount of time workers spend on issues that can be time-consuming and contribute to pressure and stress. This includes access to resources such as 24-hour physician and/or mental health helplines and free or low-cost financial counseling/advice. When the EAP Is strong and effective, it can save lives. For instance, a victim of domestic violence can use it to seek help before the situation escalates to a dangerous confrontation; and it can prevent the violence from spilling over into the workplace.
Follow some additional steps to help prevent workplace violence:
- Define workplace violence; encourage reporting. It is important for employees to understand that “workplace violence” includes any behavior meant to cause intimidation—such as verbal, physical, and even written incidents. Threats as well as actual acts of violence should be reported and addressed. Workers also need to understand that violence or threats by residents or visitors, as well as co-workers, should be taken seriously. HR should ensure that all employees know what to report and how to report it. It is important to stress that reports are confidential and that the reporter’s safety is of primary concern.
- Collect reports. Have a system to collect and document reports and analyze information. Every incident, as well as how it was investigated, the findings, and how it was resolved, must be documented and maintained. This information should be distributed to leadership regularly and used to identify the need for policy or other changes.
- Establish and maintain follow-up procedures. Have protocols in place that include counseling and trauma-informed care for victims, as well as witnesses and other affected individuals.
- Establish specific efforts to reduce workplace violence. These should be practical, that is, cost-effective, tailored to address the organization’s particular vulnerabilities, and based on proven solutions. These may include the use of “panic” buttons and cameras, enhanced entry and exit security, and tighter identification procedures. These should be evaluated over time for effectiveness; and staff should have the opportunity to offer their views on the impact of these initiatives.
- Train and engage staff. Consider offering classes and training programs on de-escalation and self-defense techniques. Conduct drills or exercises to assess the effectiveness of these efforts. Make preventing workplace violence a company-wide commitment in which everyone has a clear role.
Violence represents 17% of workplace fatalities; and about a quarter of U.S. workers say there has been at least one incident of violence in their organization. While nearly all HR professionals say their organization has a process for identifying employees or job candidates with a history of violence, they are less likely to have a clearly defined process in place to prevent workplace violence. Take a moment to review where your organization can strengthen its defenses and how you can take the lead.