According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, about 2 million U.S. workers each year are victims of workplace violence. While no one can predict or prevent every incident, employers do have a duty to take reasonable steps to keep their workers safe from workplace violence.
While a violent incident could occur in any workplace, there are situations that put workers at greater risk:
- Exchanging money with the general public
- Delivering passengers, goods or services
- Working alone or in small groups
- Working at night or in the early morning hours
- Working in high-crime areas
- Working in private homes or community settings with extensive public contact
Before a violent incident: Set strong policies
OSHA says that the best first step you can take is to establish a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence, ensure that all employees know about it, and make clear that any violence claims will be handled promptly. Provide training on what conduct is prohibited and encourage employees to report all incidents and threats.
Minimize the risk to your employees by instructing them to carry only limited amounts of money and to avoid solo travel into unfamiliar locations and situations whenever possible. As applicable, install drop safes to limit accessible money. Make sure your off-site workers have cellphones, ask them to submit a daily plan of where they will be, and have them check in regularly.
Consider what extra security you could install, such as extra lighting, an alarm system, video surveillance, badged access and security guards. If an armed person were headed toward your building, could they be stopped?
After a threat or incident: Investigate and reassess
Report each incident to the police promptly and make sure any injured workers receive a medical evaluation and treatment.
Make sure your employees know that they may be entitled to workers' compensation and that they have the right to prosecute the perpetrator.
Provide stress debriefing and post-trauma counseling to all employees.
Anytime you are notified of a threat or violent incident, respond with a full investigation and an assessment of whether further violence is likely. Institute any necessary corrective actions to your anti-violence policy and communicate those changes to the employees.
Discuss the incident with employees and encourage them to think of ways the incident could have been avoided or ways to prevent similar incidents.
Ultimately, it's helpful to have a plan in place to prevent and respond to workplace violence rather than trying to respond effectively in the midst of trauma. For more help creating a plan, discuss your situation with an employment law attorney.