How to Prevent Workplace Violence
Every year, hundreds of people in the US lose their lives to workplace violence. Although the risk varies from industry to industry, no organization is immune to it. Despite workplace safety being high on their priority lists, many organizations are not doing enough to prevent violent incidents. Besides a lack of strategy, there is also a misconception that the unpredictable nature of these events makes it impossible to prevent them. However, organizations can take steps to ensure worker safety.
Catch signs of possible violence early on
Violent incidents at the workplace are usually a result of the actions of one or two individuals. It is important to understand that the buildup to such incidents happen over a period of time. Detecting the signs of possible violent episodes allow managers to take corrective action in time. Sometimes the assailants are from outside the organization. In such cases, prevention may not be possible, but with proper training, the damage can be minimized.
Inspire willingness, commitment and action among employees
Many managers feel that talking to employees about violence prevention could scare them. The trick is to make it an issue of worker safety and not one of preventing violence. To be effective, any safety strategy requires the participation and commitment of everyone in the organization.
Set up systems and policies to prevent violence
Involve all levels of the organization in the policy making process to ensure collective ownership. Lay down policies for detecting potential flashpoints, mechanisms for reporting them to superiors and for resolving them. These policies and systems should be communicated to all employees.
Draw the red lines and let everyone know about them
Make it clear to everyone what constitutes right and wrong behavior and what is not acceptable. Aggression and abuse are often part of the chain of events that lead to violence. It should be made amply clear that unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated irrespective of the person's stature in the organization. Every violation of the code of conduct should have a consequence so that eventually, such transgressions are completely eliminated.
Silence of victims encourages violators and also allows resentment to accumulate. Make it easy for employees to report violations instead of suffering in silence so that problems can be identified and resolved quickly.
Train people to improve awareness and prevent incidents
Policies and systems should be reinforced with training to be effective. Besides teaching about right and wrong behavior and what to do about them, employees should also receive training about the right attitudes to minimize conflicts. We offer a free guide that deals with this called “How to De-escalate a Threatening Situation.” In large organizations, organize informal events involving people from various departments and teams to allow them to understand each other and build good relationships. People should also be taught to expect and accept differences.
Keep teams healthy and conflict free
Problems among team members are often a source of conflict. Improve harmony by giving each member a meaningful role in the team. Ensure that there is a hierarchy so that the right individuals have the final say when there are differences of opinion. Encourage an environment of mutual respect so that people can agree to disagree when the situation demands. Keep an eye on teams for signs of problems so that timely intervention is possible.
Nip problems in the bud
If a conflict is escalating, don't wait for it to resolve on its own. Unless they are resolved, conflicts tend to fester and lead to resentment, which can ultimately lead to violence. Unresolved conflicts and the resulting discontent also tend to give rise to new conflicts and the situation can quickly get out of hand.
Train employees to take the correct action in violent situations
Despite the best efforts, violence sometimes occurs. When a violent incident occurs, the right training can save lives. Employees should know what to do if the assailant is armed or unarmed.
When the person is unarmed, it may be possible to subdue and restrain the individual until help arrives. In cases of an armed assault, the best option is to escape from the scene. If that is not possible, hiding is the next best alternative. When all else fails, fighting to disarm or incapacitate the person is the last resort.
Workplace violence is preventable in most cases. All it needs is a good strategy for workplace safety and correct implementation. Although employees may at first react with fear when faced with the possibility of violence, knowing that the organization is giving priority to worker safety is a good reassurance.