Not every workplace violence incident makes national headlines, and most aren’t fatal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t devastating for the victims, the witnesses and the business’ reputation. It’s a serious issue and as a responsible business owner, it’s your duty to take all possible steps to prevent violence, says Felix Nater, owner of Nater Associates, a security management consulting firm specializing in workplace violence prevention.
The general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 backs Nater up, and penalties can be steep if you don’t comply. Here are a few steps Nater says you should take to minimize the risk of workplace violence at your organization.
If a gunman wants to come into your office and do something, your company’s weapons or drug policy won’t suddenly become an impenetrable magic shield. Any training will hopefully serve to help as many employees remain uninjured as possible, but it won’t stop a bullet. So why do it? Policies and training can help stop these incidents before they escalate, so you should review them now.
“While there is no single contributing factor that may lead to incidents of workplace violence, identifying the warning signs, contributing factors, triggers and environments that lead to aggression are critical in managing the potentially hostile worker,” Nater says. Supervisors play a particularly key role in recognizing warning signs and evaluating and determining risk, he says. They can spot hostile workers and also, if trained properly, can spot employees who may be experiencing domestic or intimate-partner violence at home. These incidents can spill over into the workplace if the partner visits your establishment. Train your supervisors and key staff on what to look for and let them keep you informed before something happens.
In addition, review your policies. You should consider policies regarding weapons, drugs, visitor management, access control and domestic partner violence prevention. Policies should “address the prohibited conduct, reporting procedures, responsibility and consequences,” Nater says. If employees feel empowered to report behavior that concerns them, you can address it early on.
Preventing violence at the workplace overlaps in many ways with smart, general crime-prevention strategies that any business should implement. When consulting with a client and assessing their environment, Nater says he focuses on four areas first: building perimeter and lighting, physical security, access control and deployed technology.
Even if your business is closed after dark, adequate outdoor lighting can help eliminate the risk of property damage. Perimeter security is also important. Are there gates, walls or fences that should be repaired around your property? Walk the property every so often during different times of day to assess the situation.
In addition to routine physical inspections, Nater recommends technology that can be helpful in preventing or deterring crime, as well as aiding individuals during emergencies. His recommendations include cellphones and company vehicles with GPS, distress alerts in company vehicles, distress alarms or buzzers around your facility, adequate alert and communication systems so you can quickly notify employees or authorities of an issue, access-control tools such as door buzzers or key cards, and security cameras.
There are even ways to modify your office and building configurations, with the help of a security consultant, that can aid in violence prevention, he says.
Not all workplace violence issues stem from employees who’ve been fired or laid off, but many do. And Nater believes that how you handle the separation can go a long way toward mitigating risk.
For starters, do your due diligence ahead of time. “Establish the parameters of the meeting early on. Ensure the setting is verified and that everything the employee is promised is delivered immediately,” he says. If you need to provide information about the transition to different benefits, for example, have it ready. Don’t create any more reasons for the employee to come back to the office.
Also, be respectful and use the right words. “Every effort should be made to be thoughtful, considerate and empathetic. Allow the employee ample time to ask questions and make observations. Avoid engaging the employee in argumentative discussions,” he says. Tell them what’s happening and give them a moment to accept it, while keeping the tone professional. Refer to the process as a separation, not termination. You’re not vanquishing a foe or getting even with someone. You’re informing someone they’re about to lose their income and job. Choose your words carefully during this emotionally charged situation.
Lastly, don’t separate an employee alone, but don’t let anyone else chime in either. You should have a witness or two there in case the employee later claims something untoward took place, but they should be silent. “Never allow others that are not part of the immediate process to offer commentary during the meeting or at any time following the termination,” Nater says. They can stay quiet and keep a watchful eye out for indicators of disgruntled tendencies, he says.
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