Tips for Preventing Workplace Violence
- 2 million workers in all industries are affected each year by violence at work
- 9% of worker deaths in 2017 were by violence
- In construction, violence caused 56 of 971 deaths in 2017
Workplace violence is a problem in America, and in the construction industry.
Ex-police officer and consultant Shawn Carter describes five potential sources of workplace violence: (1) criminals looking to perpetrate a crime, (2) upset clients or customers, (3) employees harassing each other, (4) domestic violence situations carrying over to work, and (5) small groups or individuals targeting specific businesses for ideological reasons (protests). In his 15 years of experience as a police officer in Oregon, Carter says most all workplace violence situations fit into one of these categories.
Carter says there are six actions employers can take to help prevent violence at work:
- Talk about it
- Provide training
- Perform site assessments
- Test employees
- Cultivate a positive culture
- Offer employee assistance programs (EAPs)
Talk about it
The first place to begin is to talk about workplace violence at work. And you have to keep talking about it. “It’s not enough to throw out a flyer or a 15-minute talk about this,” says Carter. “This has to be a flood of information that is coming out in a practical, relevant, and I would even say entertaining way for your employees to retain it.”
Provide information that is relevant to your audience and to each position in the company. Don’t talk about conditions specific to a jobsite with your office staff. The information needs to be relatable to everyone and you need to keep repeating it multiple times. Carter says that we go back to our last training when in a stressful situation. The better the information employees have, the better their reaction to a stressful event.
Training is available to help prevent workplace violence and de-escalate stressful situations when they occur. Classes in conflict resolution, emotional control, and verbal judo can help supervisors and workers respond better in stressful situations. They can teach them to de-escalate situations and deal with strong emotions, hopefully preventing an incident before it happens.
Other training, like self-defense classes or other violence avoidance techniques, can help employees deal with violent situations if they come up. These classes help empower employees and help them feel safer at work.
Perform site assessments
Carter recommends full site assessments on every worksite, including the office. The assessment notes the exits and entrances, group meeting places, closest medical access, safest places to hide, and the address of the site. These are small observances that we often take for granted, but in the heat of the moment information is often forgotten.
Once the information is gathered from the site assessment, it needs to be given to all employees working on the site, so they have it when they need it. If someone came in with an intent to harm workers, they have to know where to go, who to call, and where they are. The more often this information is repeated, the more it’s ingrained in their memory so they can recall it in the middle of an incident.
“You have to inspect what you expect,” Carter says. It’s not enough to just talk about how to respond or to train on different response techniques, you have to test your employees regularly to make sure they have the information they need. This includes practicing emergency responses. During an incident, “our adrenaline and our biological factors take over and you will immediately go to that last bit of training you’ve had. And if you’ve never thought about what you’ll do, you’re going to stutter, stammer, and fall apart. So, you have to practice.”
Similar to fire drills in school, simulate a violent incident to test employees’ knowledge on a regular basis. You can ask questions like: “What are we going to do when two guys get upset with each other at the water cooler, and a pushing match ensues? How are we going to respond?” Then play the situation out with real responses to real actions. After the test is over, debrief the team and see how the responses could have been improved.
Cultivate a positive culture
Lots of studies have shown that employees don’t stay where they work just for money and benefits. It’s often due to the culture and feeling safe in the work environment.
Company cultures are the unwritten rules of how employees conduct themselves when at work. Things like, are the rules talked about in orientation being followed? Are there consequences for negative actions? Or is it all just talk about safety and health?
“If you have a culture where violence is not taken seriously, where management questions the need to buy insurance when they haven’t been in an accident, then ultimately all this time, money, and resources that are being put into preventing workplace violence are wasted,” Carter says.
Management must see the value of investing in a safe company culture that believes the importance of preventing violence and harassment.
Employee assistance programs (EAPs), help workers who are struggling with physical, psychological, and other issues that may affect their work performance. Programs include legal assistance, nutritionists, mental health services, addiction treatment, and other benefits. Helping employees deal with their struggles cultivates a culture that cares about workers and helps to prevent violence at work.
These programs won’t help address problems with customers or criminals coming on site intent on doing wrong, but they can help with employee violence and in domestic violence situations.
Workplace violence behaviours include not only physical altercations, but harassment, bullying, and sexual harassment. Training workers on how to deal with these situations and talking about them fosters a company culture that helps prevent future violence.
Employers have a responsibility to provide their workers with a safe work environment and train them on how to react should violence occur. Those who do this help ensure that future incidents will be handled as calmly and reasonably as possible.