What is Workplace Violence Action Plan and Response

What is Workplace Violence? Action Plan and Response

Workplace violence is a serious issue that can affect employees in any industry. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year. This number includes both physical and non-physical attacks. This blog post will discuss what constitutes workplace violence, how to identify warning signs, and what you can do to protect yourself and your coworkers.

Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening behavior at work. This can include everything from threats and verbal abuse to actual physical assaults. Workplace violence can occur between coworkers, customers and employees, or even between strangers who come into contact with employees during their work.

Many warning signs indicate that someone may be a potential perpetrator of workplace violence. These include making threats or comments about violence, expressing a desire to hurt others, having a history of violent behavior, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and exhibiting erratic or aggressive behavior. If you see any of these warning signs in a coworker, it is important to take them seriously and report them to your supervisor or human resources department.

Violence At Work

Violence at work, particularly from dissatisfied customers, clients, claimants or patients, can cause stress and, in some cases, injury. This is not only physical violence as people may face verbal and mental abuse, discrimination, harassment and bullying. Fortunately, physical violence is still rare, but the violence of all types has risen significantly in recent years. Workplace violence is known to cause pain, suffering, anxiety and stress, leading to financial costs due to absenteeism and higher insurance premiums to cover increased civil claims. It can be very costly to ignore the problem. Violence from members of the public is a higher risk in several occupations, e.g., the health and social services, police and fire-fighters, various types of enforcement officers, education, benefits services, various service industries and debt collectors. In one year, 54,758 physical assaults were reported on NHS staff working in all care sectors. 

Over recent years, the risk of being a victim of actual or threatened violence at work has been similar to the last few years, with an estimated 1.1% of working adults being victims of one or more violent incidents at work. Strangers were the offenders in 60% of cases of workplace violence. Victims of actual or threatened violence at work said that the offender was under the influence of alcohol in 38% of incidents and was under drugs in 26% of incidents. A survey found that 51% of assaults at work resulted in injury, with minor bruising or a black eye accounting for most of the injuries recorded.

In 1999 the Home Office and the HSE published a comprehensive report entitled Violence at Work: Findings from the British Crime Survey. This report is updated annually, and the HSE publishes an annual report – Violence at work 2013/14: Findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales. It shows the extent of violence at work and how it changed during 2006–2014.

Violence At Work

Such incidents, while they are still high, have halved since 1999. Over this period, many of the protections outlined in this chapter and advocated by the HSE have been in place. For example, several hospitals now employ police officers in police accident and emergency departments, and there has been much more use of closed circuit television (CCTV).

Workers who are most at risk from violence are those who:

  • Handle money 
  • Provide a service to the public (such as shop workers, teachers and nurses); 
  • Are lone workers; 
  • Represent authority (police, traffic wardens and even school crossing patrols).

Many people resort to violence due to frustration. Common causes of such frustration are the following:

  • Dissatisfaction with a product or service, including the cost; 
  • A perception of being unreasonably penalized over an incident such as car parking; and 
  • A general lack of information follows a problem, such as a hospital aircraft delays or long delays.

The report defines violence at work as:

‘All assaults or threats which occurred while the victim was working and was perpetrated by members of the public.’ 

Physical assaults include the offenses of common assault, wounding, robbery and snatch theft. Threats include verbal threats made to or against the victim and non-verbal intimidation. These are the main threats to assault the victim and, in some cases, damage property. 

The survey excludes violent incidents with a relationship between the victim and the offender and where the offender was a work colleague. The latter category was excluded because of the different nature of such incidents.

The HSE Survey reported approximately 314,000 threats of violence and 269,000 physical assaults by public members on workers in the UK during the year. Approximately 257,000 workers had experienced at least one incident of violence at work. This resulted in one fatality, 866 major or specified injuries and 4,069 over 7-day injuries. Those workers particularly affected in 2008/09 were: 

  • Social welfare workers (2.6%); 
  • Healthcare professionals (3.8%); and 
  • Police officers (9%).

In over a third of the incidents, the victim believed the offender was under the influence of alcohol, and in nearly a fifth of incidents, under the influence of drugs. 

Interestingly, almost half of the assaults and a third of the threats happened after 1800 hrs, which suggests that the risks are higher if people work at night or in the late evening. About 16% of the assaults involved offenders under 16, mainly against teachers or other education workers.

Violence at work is defined by the HSE as: 

‘any incident in which an employee is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.’

In recognition of this, the HSE has produced a useful guide for employers, which includes a four-stage action plan and some advice on precautionary measures (‘Violence at Work: a Guide for Employers’, INDG69 (rev)). Under health and safety legislation, the employer is just as responsible for protecting employees from violence as they are for any other aspects of their safety.

The Health and Safety at Work Act puts broad general duties on employers and others to protect the health and safety of staff. In particular, Section 2 of the HSW Act gives employers a duty to safeguard, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees and any visitors.

Employers also have a common law general duty of care towards their staff, which extends to the risk of violence at work. Legal precedents (see West Bromwich Building Society v. Townsend [1983] IRLR 147 and Charlton v. Forrest Printing Ink Company Limited [1980] IRLR 331) show that employers have a duty to take reasonable care to see that their staff are not exposed to unnecessary risks at work, including the risk of injury by criminals. In carrying out their duty to provide a safe system of work and a safe working place, employers should, therefore, have regard for and safeguard their staff against the risk of injury from violent criminals.

Why Does Workplace Violence Occur?

Workplace violence can occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is motivated by personal issues such as anger or resentment towards co-workers, supervisors, or the company itself. In other cases, it may be related to robbery or theft, or be a response to job insecurity or downsizing. It can also happen because of domestic violence spilling over into the workplace.

Workplace violence can have a devastating impact on businesses and employees alike. It can lead to lost productivity, increased absenteeism, and high turnover rates. It can also create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. If not dealt with properly, workplace violence can escalate and lead to serious injury or even death.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the most common type of workplace violence is “personal conflict, ” including arguments and altercations between co-workers. This type of violence typically arises from interpersonal conflicts that are not related to work. However, these personal conflicts can escalate and become violent if not properly addressed. 

Other common types of workplace violence include robbery, assault, and homicide. While personal conflict is the most common type of workplace violence, it is not always the most serious. Assault, robbery, and homicide are all more serious types of workplace violence that can result in serious injuries or even death. Therefore, it is important for employers to be aware of all types of workplace violence and to have policies and procedures in place to address each type.

Workplace Violence: Action Plan

The HSE recommends the following four-point action plan:

  1. Find out if there is a problem;
  2. Decide on what action to take;
  3. Take the appropriate action;
  4. Check that the action is effective.

1. Find Out If There Is A Problem

This involves a risk assessment to determine what the natural hazards are. It is essential to ask people at the workplace; sometimes, a short questionnaire may be useful. Record all incidents to get a picture of what is happening over time, ensuring that all relevant details are recorded. The records should include:

  • A description of what happened;
  • Details of who was attacked, the attacker and any witnesses;
  • The outcome, including how people were affected and how much time was lost;
  • Information on the location of the event.

Owing to the sensitive nature of some aggressive or violent actions, employees may need to be encouraged to report incidents and be protected from future aggression. 

All incidents should be classified so that the trends can be analyzed. 

Consider the following:

  • Fatalities;
  • Major injury;
  • Less severe injury or shock which requires first-aid treatment, outpatient treatment, time off work or expert counseling;
  • Threat or feeling of being at risk or in a worried or distressed state.

2. Decide On What Action To Take

It is important to evaluate the risks and decide who may be harmed and how this will likely occur. The threats may be from the public or coworkers at the workplace or maybe from visiting customers’ homes. Consultation with employees or other people at risk will improve their commitment to control measures and make the precautions much more effective. The level of training and information provided, together with the general working environment and the job’s design, all significantly influence the level of risk.

  • Reception or customer service points;
  • Enforcement and inspection;
  • Lone working situations and community-based activities;
  • Front-line service delivery;
  • Education and welfare;
  • Catering and hospitality;
  • Retail petrol and late-night shopping operations;
  • Leisure facilities, especially if alcohol is sold;
  • Healthcare and voluntary roles;
  • Policing and security;
  • Mental health units or in contact with disturbed people;
  • Cash handling or control of high-value goods.

Consider the following issues:

  • Quality of service provided;
  • Design of the operating environment;
  • Type of equipment used;
  • Designing the job.

Some violence may be deterred if measures suggest that any violence may be recorded. Many public bodies use the following measures:

  • Informing telephone callers that their calls will be recorded;
  • Displaying prominent notices that violent behavior may lead to the withdrawal of services and prosecution;
  • Using CCTV or security personnel.

Four in ten employment inquiries to one employment law firm in 2009 were related to bullying. Of those who reported suffering bullying, 80% said it had affected their physical and mental health, and a third had taken time off or left their jobs.

What is Workplace Violence

Quality Of Service Provided

The type and quality of service provision significantly affect the likelihood of violence occurring in the workplace. Frustrated people whose expectations have not been met and are treated unprofessionally may believe they have the justification to cause trouble.

Sometimes circumstances are beyond the control of the staff member, and potentially violent situations need to be defused. Correct skills can turn a dissatisfied customer into a confirmed supporter simply by carefully responding to their concerns. The perceived lack of or incorrect information can cause significant frustration.

Design Of The Operating Environment

Personal safety and service delivery are closely connected and have been widely researched recently. This has resulted in many organizations altering their facilities to reduce customer frustration and enhance sales. Interestingly, most service points experience less violence when they remove barriers or screens. Still, the transition needs to be carefully planned in consultation with staff, and other measures adopted to reduce the risks and improve their protection.

The layout, ambiance, colors, lighting, type of background music, furnishings including their comfort, information, things to do while waiting and even smell all have a major impact. Queue-jumping causes a lot of anger and frustration and needs effective signs and proper queue management, which can help to reduce the potential for conflict. 

More expansive desks, raised floors, access for special needs, escape arrangements for staff, carefully arranged furniture, and screening for staff areas can all be utilized.

Type Of Security Equipment Used

A large amount of equipment is available, and expert advice is necessary to ensure that it is suitable and sufficient for the task. Some measures that could be considered include the following:

Access control to protect people and property. There are many variations from staffed and friendly receptions, barriers with swipe cards and simple coded security locks. The building layout and design may well partly dictate what is chosen. People inside the premises need access passes so they can be identified easily.

Closed circuit television is one of the most effective security arrangements to deter crime and violence. Because of the high cost of the equipment, it is essential to ensure that proper independent advice is obtained on the type and the extent of the system required.

Alarms – there are three main types:

  • Intruder alarms fitted in buildings to protect against unlawful entry, particularly after working hours;
  • Panic alarms are used in areas such as receptions and interview rooms covertly located so that they can be operated by the staff member threatened;
  • Personal alarms are carried by an individual to attract attention and to temporarily distract the attacker.

Radios and pagers can be a great asset to lone workers, but special training is necessary, as good radio discipline with a special language and codes are required.

Mobile phones effectively communicate and keep colleagues informed of people’s movements and problems such as travel delays. Key numbers should be inserted for rapid use in an emergency.

Job Design

Many things can be done to improve how the job is carried out to improve security and avoid violence. These include: 

  • Using cashless payment methods;
  • Keeping money on the premises to a minimum;
  • A careful check of customer or client’s credentials;
  • Careful planning of meetings away from the workplace;
  • Teamwork where suspected aggressors may be involved;
  • Regular contact with workers away from their base. There are particular services available to provide contact arrangements;
  • Avoidance of lone working as far as is reasonably practicable;
  • Thinking about how staff who have to work shifts or late hours will get home. Safe transport and/or parking areas may be required;
  • Setting up support services to help victims of violence and, if necessary, other staff who could be affected. They may need debriefing, legal assistance, time off work to recover or counseling by experts.

For example, a general hospital’s busy accident and emergency department must balance staff protection from violent attacks with the need to offer patients a calm and open environment. Protection could be given to staff by the installation of wide counters, coded locks on doors, CCTV systems, panic buttons and alarm systems. The employment of security staff and strict security procedures for storing and issuing drugs are two further precautions such departments take. Awareness training for staff to recognize early signs of aggressive behavior and effective counseling service for those who have suffered from violent behavior should be provided.

3. Take The Appropriate Action

The arrangements for dealing with violence should be included in the safety policy and managed like any other aspect of the health and safety procedures. Action plans should be drawn up and followed using the appropriate consultation arrangements. The police should also be consulted to ensure they are happy with the plan and prepared to play their part in providing backup and the like.

4. Check That The Action Is Effective

Ensure that the records are maintained, any reported incidents are investigated, and suitable action is taken. The procedures should be regularly audited and changes made if they are not working correctly. 

Victims should be provided with help and assistance to overcome their distress through debriefing, counseling, time off to recover, legal advice,e and colleague supports.

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