Companies Can Take Steps To Limit Workplace Violence

Feb. 7, 2001
An employment lawyer advises companies to review their policies on limiting violence in the workplace in light of the shootings at the Navistar plant outside Chicago.

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The shootings at the Navistar plant in Illinois this week raise employee safety concerns for companies and their staffs. As a result, companies should review their policies on limiting violence in the workplace, a Chicago law firm advised.

Homicide is the second-leading cause of workplace death in the United States. In 1998, for example, there were more than 8,000 serious on-the-job assaults.

"The bad news is that workplace violence is becoming more widespread across a broader range of companies and not-for-profit organizations," said Kathryn Hartrick, a partner with the Chicago law firm of Strickler & Nelson, who advises employers on employment issues, including violence. "However, there is some good news for employers. There are usually warning signs that precede an outbreak of violence in the workplace. As a result, employers can take preventive steps to minimize the chances of assaults and deadly attacks."

According to Hartrick, there are three key ingredients that most often contribute to lethal work-related violence:

  • An employee who has a heightened potential for violence. Potentially violent employees may have a substance abuse problem, experience mental illness, or harbor a long-standing perception of being treated unfairly by an employer.
  • A workplace environment that can be a catalyst for an unstable or angry employee. High-pressured, fast-paced, low-paying workplaces can be high-risk environments for employees pre-disposed to violence.
  • A triggering event experienced by a company employees, either on-the-job or at home. This could include the termination or layoff of an employee or a personal setback such as a divorce or the break-up of a relationship.

Other factors, including the lack of social support and the accessibility of guns can also play a role in workplace violence, Hartrick noted.

Although there are no foolproof steps to prevent workplace violence, Hartrick said companies can establish and implement comprehensive workplace violence policies.

Key elements in a strong prevention program, according to Hartrick include:

  • Assessment of high-risk employees and workplace stress factors.
  • Creation of a crisis intervention action plan.
  • Incorporation of violence prevention measures, policies and protocols as part of an employee relations program.
  • Development of a management level committee to monitor ongoing risks of violence.
  • Anticipating volatile behavior when high-risk employees are disciplined, demoted or lose their jobs.

Hartrick said it is important that companies set up clear lines of communication, all along the reporting chain, regarding the monitoring of aberrant employee behavior, including verbal and physical threats.

Employers should implement a zero-tolerance policy toward any kind of violence, with clearly communicated disciplinary measures following any threats.

"Companies should use every tool possible to create a safe working environment," said Hartrick. "Many employers are uncomfortable confronting mental health and personality issues, which are frequently the basis for hostile behavior. But in order to maximize on-the-job safety, management needs to be tuned into the behaviors that are high-risk."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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