The horror of workplace violence can happen anywhere and to any business.
Approximately 650 homicides, 2 million assaults and 6 million serious threats are committed in the workplace each year.
Experts estimate that two-thirds of these incidents are preceded by behavioral red flags.
They might have been prevented had management or coworkers been better trained to act on their observation or instincts.
"The best weapons for business are awareness and prevention," said Candysse Miller, executive director of the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC). "Corporate managers and personnel need training to recognize the warning signs for workplace violence. Once recognized, corporate policy needs to address the best methods to deal with such volatile situations."
Miller said the warning signs are numerous. For instance, if an employee has a dramatic behavior or personality change, is chronically disgruntled with the job and assignments, blames others for their problems, intimidates, threatens violence or perceives unfairness or injustice, immediate intervention could prevent violence.
Managers, supervisors and employees must take all threats seriously and executive management should have clearly stated written policy regarding the reporting and handling of such incidents, Miller said.
"The human and economic impact of workplace violence can be devastating," said Miller. "Besides the human toll, workplace violence researchers estimate the cost to American business ranges between $6 billion and $36 billion a year. Negligent hiring and retention out-of-court settlements due to workplace violence lawsuits averaged more than $500,000, with jury verdicts in these cases averaging about $3 million."
Miller said companies can help reduce their risk of workplace violence by conducting thorough background checks on new employees; establishing a "zero tolerance" of threats, intimidation or any act of violence, and it should be included in the mission statement and employee handbook; instituting an effective grievance process; and offering a continuos forum for training and education.
If confronted with workplace violence, IINC recommends the following:
- Stay calm and non-confrontational.
- Slow everything down.
- Speak slowly and keep distance from perpetrator.
- Do not become animated in your body language.
- If a weapon is displayed, try to go for safety personnel or summon the police.
- Keep in mind that most assaults last no more than 10 minutes. Immediate action can save your life.
by Virginia Sutcliffe