Workplace Violence Prevention and Response – A Comprehensive Guide

angry employee workplace violence

Workplace violence prevention has always been an important topic of discussion. Now, in the year 2020, the subject is more important than ever. Injuries and fatalities at work are not always caused by accidents. Instead, they are often caused by other people.

The National Safety Council reports assault as the fourth-leading cause of workplace fatalities. Violence was responsible for 18,400 injuries and 458 deaths in 2017, the most recent year with data available.

uber lyft taxi driver safety violenceIndustries like healthcare, education, and service providers (which includes municipal services) have the highest violence rates. The most likely occupation to be murdered, according to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is for-hire drivers.

For-hire drivers (which include taxi drivers, along with Uber and Lyft drivers and chauffeurs) are 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers.

What form does violence at work take? How can you and your company make workplace violence prevention a priority?

Categorizing Workplace Violence

The first step to preventing workplace violence is to understand it. This is done through the categorization of the types of violence that occur.

OSHA reports 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence annually. Even more people witness it and never report it.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health classifies workplace violence into four different categories: criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker, and personal relationship.

1. Criminal Intent

random attacker workplace violence preventionType 1 violence involves a random attacker who has no relationship to the business or its employees. This type of workplace violence includes robberies, terrorist attacks, and other assaults.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out this is the least frequent form of violence that occurs in health care. A study from Arizona State University points out convenience stores are consistent targets of robbery, although banks and other retail establishments also have reason to worry.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), 3,033 robberies, burglaries, and larcenies occurred in 2018 against financial institutions. This includes commercial banks, credit unions, and armored carriers, among other companies.

Meanwhile, the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) is studying the longitudinal effects of terrorism in the workplace. Employees who have been victimized by random violence have long-term effects on their perceptions of safety.

Not all criminal intent is for monetary gain – sometimes attacks are carried out for ideological reasons.

The CDC lists a variety of terrorist attacks that can occur (and have occurred) in workplaces, including anthrax attacks, use of infectious diseases, chemical attacks, and the infamous World Trade Center attack of September 11, 2001.

2. Customer/Client

Type 2 violence involves a customer or client attacking an employee. This type of customer-on-worker violence is very common in health care and police work, among others.

Retail stores are also known to deal with customer-on-worker violence, especially during frenzied sales like Black Friday. Or the Popeyes chicken sandwich craze of 2019

Fast food customer attacks seem commonplace, and the videos go viral. In 2019, several McDonald’s employees were attacked by customers in different parts of the country for arbitrary reasons.

Legal complications arise when customers attack workers, even if the customer isn’t right. It’s important to immediately call 911 to file a police report and prevent future adverse action.

Type 2 violence isn’t restricted to retail – in fact, it’s the most common form of violence in health care. Nurses are repeatedly attacked by patients, especially those in the emergency room, mental health institutions, and correctional facilities.

Workplace violence against hospital workers spiked recently, and violence against law enforcement (specifically the murder of police officers) experienced a sharp uptick, as well.

Even a video game tournament in Jacksonville Landing, Florida was targeted by an active shooter in 2018. The 2017 Las Vegas shooter targeted hotel employees before unloading at concertgoers during the Route 91 Harvest music festival.

In 2018, YouTube HQ in San Bruno, CA was targeted by an active shooter upset about changes to content creator monetization policies.

Any industry can experience customer-on-worker violence and needs to be prepared.

3. Worker-on-Worker

Type 3 violence involves coworkers and is often called lateral or horizontal violence. It’s modern-day bullying that happens to adults regularly. It manifests as verbal and emotional abuse, humiliation, even murder.

Disgruntled journalist Vester Lee Flanagan II shot and killed two fellow journalists, Alison Bailey Parker and Adam Laing Ward, in 2015 over labor disputes. A dozen people were killed in a 2019 rampage in a Virginia Beach municipal building by a disgruntled city employee.

A disgruntled employee in Aurora, Illinois killed six and wounded six in a February 2019 attack on the Henry Pratt Company plant he worked at.

worker on worker violence

Although the terms “coworkers,” “lateral,” and “horizontal” are used, it’s misleading. Most of this violence is directed at those lower on the corporate ladder. Supervisor-on-underling violence can hardly be considered equitable peer violence.

Often times, this violence is seen by other employees. There could be a dozen witnesses to this coworker violence, but it never gets reported.

Experts say this is a real-life trend. Worker-on-worker violence often goes unreported, and every government agency mentioned above believes the numbers are much higher than reported.

Even if it’s reported, the proper action isn’t always taken. Sometimes the perpetrator is fired, demoted, or otherwise subjected to disciplinary action. Criminal and civil legal action is much less common.

Worker-on-worker violence is an epidemic that needs to stop. Things get even more complicated when personal relationships are involved.

4. Personal Relationships

personal relationships workplace violence preventionType 4 violence involves an outsider with a personal relationship with the employee. An unhealthy relationship can spill into the workplace and can lead to violence.

This type of workplace violence predominantly affects women. However, at times it can lead to violence against completely innocent third parties.

In 2018, a Phoenix man went on a shooting rampage stemming from his divorce. He killed a forensic psychiatrist, two paralegals who worked for his wife’s attorney, a marriage counselor, and more.

Rejection of romantic interest was also cited as a factor in the 2018 Parkland school shooting.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. One in seven women and one in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner.

Victims of domestic violence lose a total of 8 million days of paid work annually, costing $8.3 billion. This matters in the workplace because 78% of women killed in the workplace are killed by a current or former intimate partner.

No means no, and the demise of a relationship doesn’t need to lead to the demise of a person’s life.

Preventing Workplace Violence

Workplace violence prevention requires a multi-tiered approach to proactively identify threats and treat the symptoms. OSHA provides several recommendations, including a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by employees.

●        Training

Training goes a long way to preventing workplace violence. Employees should be properly trained on what conduct is acceptable, what to do when witnessing violence, and protective measures in the event they find themselves enduring an attack.

●        surveillance for workplace violence preventionSecurity & Surveillance

Security and surveillance systems help deter criminal activity in the first place. Well-lit parking lots, security alarms, and visible surveillance cameras and other sensors minimize the ability of an assailant to succeed. Securing building access through keycards and employing security personnel can also assist in proactive defense.

●        Limit Cash & Valuables

The less cash a business has on-site, the less that can be stolen. Drop safes keep cash registers to minimal cash on hand. Regular procedures should be followed to minimize the cash value of any attempted robberies. When criminals know it’s a low-value target, they’re less enticed to hit the business.

●        Maintain Communication

Communication is key during a crisis. Employees should have cell phones on hand, and security personnel should be equipped with two-way radios. This provides a valuable line of communication in the event of workplace violence.

●        Follow Safety Procedures

Some policies may feel like they don’t matter, but they must be followed. Safety procedures are put in place to provide security to the entire workplace. Routine patrols and monitoring make it easy to identify a potentially hazardous situation on the spot, reducing reaction times.

With these policies in place, the workplace can be made proactively safer. Unfortunately, no workplace is ever 100% safe, not even on the secure military facilities that protect this country. This was proven twice in Fort Hood, when soldiers went on separate shooting rampages against their fellow soldiers.

Nobody wants it to happen, but if violence breaks out in the workplace, the workplace needs to respond.

Responding to Workplace Violence

Keeping violent incidents from occurring at work is our goal. But when it occurs, our goal is no longer workplace violence prevention, but response. It’s the duty of any business to protect employees. Workplace violence prevention needs to be accompanied by a proper response plan for any type of violent activity.

The U.S. Department of Labor divides workplace violence into three levels.

Level 1 (Early Warning Signs)

workplace violence preventionThe early warning signs of potential violence start at intimidating and bullying, disrespect, and verbal abuse. Employees should feel comfortable reporting these warning signs to management.

A supervisor should schedule a private time and place to listen to the concerned employee. If necessary, behavioral action may be taken against the perpetrator. This may be as simple as discussing the problem.

Set behavioral limits and expectations. Create a performance plan and stick to it. This can help diffuse the situation before it escalates.

Level 2 (Escalation)

The situation escalates when a person starts arguing with customers, vendors, and coworkers. Problematic workers start to disobey policies and procedures.

It starts as minor things – petty theft or sabotage – then turns to sending threatening notes and verbalizing their intent to hurt others.

When things reach this point, management needs to immediately get involved. Calming the person down and working together to regain control is the focus at this stage. This is usually the type of scene where videos start to go viral. For example, this Los Angeles woman screaming racial slurs inside a CVS in September 2019.

Documentation is key to proving the erratic behavior and assisting a police response, if necessary.

Level 3 (Emergency Response)

police emergency response interventionThings intensify at the highest level, resulting in physical altercations, destruction of property, suicidal threats, display of extreme rage, and usage of weaponry. Violence is in full-swing, and lives are in immediate danger.

If 911 was not already called, it should be flooded by this point. Emergency operators help and management should actively be working to protect innocent victims and save lives.

An example of this occurred last year. During the 2018 hostage situation at the Hypercacher kosher supermarket in Paris, employees helped hide customers from the terrorists.

Police intervention takes time, and the actions taken in those preceding minutes can be the difference between life and death.

It’s okay to be scared. But no matter what happens at Level 3, stay calm, accept help from others, and cooperate with law enforcement. It may be the only way to survive.

Using Technology to Be Safer

Besafe advanced building safety platform technologyTechnology is at the foundation of responding to violence in the workplace. From domestic violence to assaults and terrorist attacks, there’s no end to the dangers faced. But today’s advanced security tech can help reduce the frequency and severity of workplace violence.

BeSafe Technologies arms organizations with the tools needed to make this happen. When a crisis occurs, communication is key to formulating a proper response. Emergency calls need to be monitored for information, and an overview of the situation needs to be analyzed.

Besafe’s ActiveShield platform uses advanced IoT technology and AI-powered software to send alerts and crucial info to first responders in an instant. In seconds, they can see a digital, interactive overview of the building, it’s entrances and exits, and utilities. This allows for the coordination of response teams to isolate the attacker, rescue innocent people, and minimize damage.

An end to workplace violence

The Employee Assistance Trade Association estimates corporate America spends up to $6.4 billion a year in workplace violence-related expenses. These events are caused by several economic, political, and personal factors.

Workplace violence prevention should be a concern for everybody. These attacks are just as prevalent as school shootings, and the stakes can often be higher. Grown adults often have military training and experience, making casualty counts skyrocket.

Identifying the sources of workplace violence and proactively addressing the root causes is a Herculean effort. It’s not an impossible dream though.

We live in a civil society, and technology empowers us to work together to resolve any pressing issue. Workplace violence prevention can succeed through vigilance and technology.

Contact BeSafe Technologies today to speak with one of our consultants on how to address safety and security at your place of work.

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