10 ways to immunize your company against the risks for violence

This is the final part of a five-part series on workplace violence which appeared in the April 2002 issue of Workplace Today. Reproduced with permission from Workplace Today® Inc. ©2002 All rights reserved.

This final part of the series on workplace violence synthesizes our previous discussion into ten recommendations on how to reduce the risk for workplace violence. The recommendations come with a necessary caveat about the foibles of predicting anyone's behaviour, let alone violent behaviour. The core of the discussion is to be mindful of risk, and exercise due diligence in ensuring a safe workplace.

  1. Don't assume that your workplace is immune to a violent incident. Tragedy makes people realize that the idea that it could never happen to them is a myth.
  2. If you are a sizable enough workplace, put all the essentials in place. Make sure your company has an intelligible workplace harassment and violence policy, and make it available to all workers. Equally important is a mechanism by which an employee's concerns - about being harassed, about the deterioration of a co-worker - can be disclosed safely and followed-up properly.
  3. Consider appointing a workplace violence critical incident team and a workplace violence officer whose role is to track incidents, disseminate policy, arrange for (and give) formal training sessions about workplace violence, and who will keep statistics on a year-to-year basis so that the firm has a clear idea of how it's doing.
  4. Think about security issues. They include making sure that the physical plant is safe, that security is posted where it needs to be, and that dark reaches where a violent attack can potentially take place are well lit. Security cameras should monitor points of entry and exit, and other strategic areas of the company, parking lots should be properly illuminated, and panic buttons or telephones must be located in strategic and accessible places. Larger organizations have onsite security. A representative from the security department should be a member or possibly in charge of the critical incident team, and otherwise be intimately acquainted with every security and potential violence problem in the company.
  5. Consider a dispute resolution mechanism, using internal or outside mediation services, or peer mediation, so that problems get dealt with and aren't left to fester.
  6. Consider making an employee assistance plan (EAP) available to workers. Be selective in choosing an EAP provider that will best meet your firm's needs, and above all, an EAP provider sensitive to the problem of workplace violence. Some well-known workplace violence perpetrators were routed to a perfunctory assessment and ineffective anger management or other treatment; the deeper and darker problem was never identified because an inadequately trained mental health care provider failed to turn his or her mind to the issue of risk.
  7. Be sensitive to the level of stress induced by organizational change. While downsizing, upsizing, recession, technology and competition are economic markers for the company, they represent, on a microcosmic level, destabilizing forces for the predisposed worker.
  8. Companies should be aware of the implications of domestic violence for workplace safety. Women who have finally mustered up the courage to escape an abusive spouse can inevitably be located at their work site. There have been a number of incidents where a rejected husband injured or killed innocent co-workers in the process of retribution against the wife.
  9. Provide all employees, and at a minimum, supervisors and mangers, with specific and fairly intensive training about workplace conflict and violence. One doesn't have to be a psychiatrist or psychologist to understand how to notice and interpret first signs of impending violence. The clues are almost always there. Post incident sentiments like "he was such a quiet man", or "who would have known" are, amongst other things, rationalizations for failures to pay closer attention to the signs. It wouldn't be unreasonable to say that not only do potentially violent persons show signs, but many broadcast changes in their stability and personality, before acting.
  10. Workplaces are modifiable cultures. Workers, managers, and other firm personnel bring their personal, cultural, and moral values and work ethics to work with them, but ultimately, it's the company that's responsible for influencing the workplace milieu and culture.
  11. Workplace culture can be permissive of aggression.

A workplace that conveys that it cares about and respects its workers, not only sends out the right messages, but inhibits the development of conflictual climate and resentful feelings that are often the environment in which workplace violence occurs.