Addressing Workplace Violence

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 2 million employees are victims of workplace violence each year, and that’s not including cases that go unreported. But what is defined as “workplace violence”? Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical being, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening behavior that occurs at a work setting. A work setting is any location, either temporary or permanent, where an employee performs work duties. Those who can be affected are employees, customers, clients, and even employers. Some examples of workplace violence are beatings, psychological traumas, threats, obscene phone calls, intimidation, being followed, insulted, shouted at, etc.

Research has found that there are some work environments that are more prone to be involved with workplace violence. Working in a place where money is exchanged with customers, working with unstable coworkers, working in places where alcohol is served, and working at certain times of day/night are all factors that should be considered when addressing workplace violence. Specific occupations that are at a higher risk include delivery drivers, bank tellers, healthcare professionals, security officers, lawyers, retail workers, etc. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that workplace violence costs around $121 billion a year, and this includes lost productivity, days off work, health care costs, legal expenses, property damage, reputational damage, and other financial losses. Violence incidents can result in fear from other employees, clients or customers, or anyone interacting with the organization, so employers should do everything they can to prevent it or minimize it. Identifying the risk factors should be the first step. After those factors have been established, the appropriate actions must be taken. Begin by establishing a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. This policy should be supported with a well-written prevention program that should be shared with everyone in the organization. Employees should know and understand the policy and be aware that all claims, no matter what, will be investigated and dealt with promptly. 

Workers have a right to a safe workplace; the law requires all employers to provide their employees a safe and healthy environment to work. Keep in mind that workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they don’t feel safe, and failed inspections may have serious repercussions. Make sure your employees are aware and well informed about workplace violence by providing informational materials such as pamphlets, posters, company wide emails, or educational meetings.