Workplace Violence

Violence At Work

There was a time when you thought of workplace safety as something related to the working conditions.

Years ago, safety in the workplace had to do with working conditions or hazardous materials. Today, we think of violence. This can take the form of an armed robbery at a convenience store. Or, employees acting out against each other. Likewise, such violence could be related to domestic problems. And, a co-worker, due to his or her particular dysfunction, might go on an office rampage. Whatever the form, prevention of violence to employees is a leadership problem. Management must set into motion preventive actions. Countermeasures to curtail violence in the work place requires proactive leadership. In designing program initiatives, good leaders look for ways to reduce the potential for criminal incidents. It begins at the top of the organization. From there, information filters down through the chain of command. Yet, this is not a one way street. Information flow goes up, down and across the organization. To all sub-units or departments within the organizational structure, effective countermeasures are crucial. Prevention strategies involve a strong management commitment. In safeguarding the working environment, all personnel are part of the security continuum.

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The overall goal is to reduce the risk as much as possible. It would not be possible to achieve a perfect state of absolute safety and security. No two organizations are exactly alike. And, there is no such thing as 100% foolproof protection. We simply strive to reduce the odds in our favor. All it takes is fool to really mess up our so called perfect plan. As such, all entities within the organization must work together to formulate a team approach. In 1994, the U.S. Department of Justice released information related to the study of workplace violence. The research suggested that nearly 1 million people each year were subjected to some type of violence at work. This figure represents approximately 15% of the almost 7 million acts of violence experienced by U.S. residents age 12 and older. In addition, it was reported that more than 2 million personal thefts occurred. And, at the same time, a quarter of million auto thefts took place while victims were working. The following points suggest the impact of such incidents.

These are just a few.

  • Work days lost – 1 3/4 million days;
  • Average of 3.5 days lost per incident;
  • $55 million in lost wages (does not include days covered by sick and annual leave);
  • Violent crime more often affects men;
  • Men just as likely to be affected by theft as women;
  • About 1/3 of the incidents involved a weapon;
  • 16% of violent incidents involved physical injury;
  • 60% of workplace violence in private companies;
  • Men more likely to be attacked by stranger;
  • Women more likely to be attacked by someone they know;

According to the research, five percent of the women, while at work, were attacked by their husbands or boyfriends. This includes ex-husbands as well as ex-boyfriends. It is difficult to come up with precise measures for all the incidents that take place in the working environment. Some victims, perhaps as high as 50%, do not report their victimization to the police. Prevention is essential and involves early warning signs. Upon detecting early warning indicators, proper planning becomes crucial and time sensitive.

The types of work settings have included private companies as well as government offices. Incidents have taken place in restaurants, factories, warehouses, school buildings and parking garages near such places. Each work site or facility should be analyzed with an eye toward prevention planning and training of a proactive nature. Since no two locations are the same, prevention strategies should be tailored to the specific environment. The potential for violence could arise from a number of possibilities. It may be personal and individual or it may be personal and directed toward the organization as a whole. Violence in the workplace could have organized crime implications, or could be the result of a terrorist act because of some political reason. Regardless of the basis for the threat and subsequent action, countermeasure should be developed that consider the range of possibilities. Employees and management should work together to develop effective countermeasures that will address as many personal safety and property protection issues as possible. It should be kept in mind that a certain amount of common sense must be used. Keep things in proper focus given the nature of the operations. The media has a tendency to portray certain events in a spectacular manner and often with much exaggerated coverage for a prolonged period of time. Efforts to plan effectively should be supported by thorough analysis. Assessing the Threat Level would include at least the following considerations.

Putting together a threat assessment involves gathering information. Sometimes this is called “intelligence”. This is a process of assembling information from various sources. It includes, but is not limited to, who or what might be threat, as well as motives, intentions, abilities and targets of opportunity. The goal is to reduce the potential for the threat and ensure safety. Assessing the threat level concerns identifying vulnerabilities. Typically, people in an organization are aware of vulnerabilities. Sometimes, there are early warning signs of such indicators. Personnel need to be listened to by management. Building and maintaining the organizational capacity for prevention and interdiction require effective planning. Such efforts suggest the need for active policies and procedures. At the same time, personnel have to be actively involved in the process. In developing an initial plan of action, one way to begin is by assessing the threat level. At the particular location, the needs may be unique and require special adjustments. An assessment threat involves investigation and analysis of people, places and things, and determining how they interact. The interpersonal relationship between people and their working environment may shed light upon the nature of the threat atmosphere. Just as no two facilities or offices are alike in every way, the levels of threat for those places will be different.

Basic considerations include:

Assessing the threat level is a process of identifying the potential for a threat through proactive research and analysis.

Basic elements of safety and security countermeasures should be considered.

Criteria for assessing certain persons as potential threats should be established for a Suspect Profile.

Development of a community liaison program between law enforcement and private security forces.

Establishment of an information gathering system.

Get local law enforcement assistance.

Focus attention on awareness programs and efforts to define the potential for violence within the given environment. Violence is a process that develops over time from relationships where problems, conflicts and disputes go unresolved. Assessments should be made of people, situations and settings.

This includes:

1. Who is a potential assailant? Who is vulnerable to attack? Who has carried out violence at this location in the past?
2. What situations could activate a violent confrontation? What is the history of attacks? What were the warning signals? What has been done to identify potential assailants and develop strategies for intervention? What kinds of information have been gathered and analyzed regarding possible threats to the working environment in question?
3. Where could confrontations take place? Where did any confrontations take place in the past?
4. When are such confrontations likely to take place?
5. How could confrontations take place? How can management assess possible scenarios that could occur?

One aspect of assessing the threat level involves individual research efforts. A preliminary investigation should be conducted to gather critical information. This information should be helpful in determining the level of risk. The potential for a threat to the particular facility should be carefully analyzed. Consideration must be given to the kinds of efforts necessary to provide a range of personal and physical security countermeasures. People, places and things are the focus of the assessment. This process of gathering information should focus on determining vulnerability. Intervention strategies that reduce the opportunity for an incident follow the assessment process. Basically, a preliminary investigation serves the purpose of gathering the facts in a systematic and detailed manner. After that, it becomes a matter of action versus inaction. Inaction, once the realities are known, is dangerous. Failure to take corrective measures has adverse consequences for people in the workplace.

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