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What is Workplace Violence?
Workplace violence can be any act of physical violence, threats of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. Workplace violence can affect or involve employees, visitors, and contractors.

A number of different actions in the work environment can trigger or cause workplace violence. It may even be the result of non-work-related situations such as domestic violence or "road rage". Workplace violence can be inflicted by an abusive employee, a manager, supervisor, co-worker, customer, family member, or even a stranger. Whatever the cause or whoever the perpetrator, workplace violence is not to be accepted or tolerated.

Workplace Violence Magnitude
However, there is no sure way to predict human behavior and, while there are warning signs, there is no specific profile of a potentially dangerous individual. The best prevention comes from identifying any problems early and dealing with them.

In 2005, homicides increased for the first time in six years. Such tragic violence in the workplace seems to come out of the blue. Yet, warning signs are present in advance of nearly all episodes of workplace violence, preventing workplace violence would be more certain if only employees knew what to look for.

NIOSH's Current Intelligence Bulletin, indicates workplace violence as one of the fastest growing category of murder in the United States. The same statistics report that an average of 20 homicides occur each week nationwide, of which 75% were robbery related. 1 in 4 workers have been harassed, threatened, or attacked. Co-workers are responsible for the majority of the harassment, followed by customers.

The Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey indicates that approximately 1 million persons are assaulted annually. Second degree assaults -- 1,685 per day, first degree assaults -- 724 per day, robberies -- 216 per day and rapes -- 36 per day with the majority occurring in the service industry and retail trade industries.

Prevention starts with a policy that creates a zero-tolerance for workplace violence, verbal and non-verbal threats and ensures that no reprisals are taken against an employee who reports or experiences workplace violence.

The written program should outline details to eliminate or reduce risks. Employees should be able to recognize threats and anger and be trained on all emergency procedures and reporting procedures. The workplace should develop security procedures that assign responsibility and authority to key employees.

The four major components to help develop a process are management commitment and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and controls and training and education. My personal experience with workplace violence always generates the same questions: Do we have the type of hiring practice that is conducive to employing the right employee? Do we have processes that will integrate the new employee into the existing staff? Do we have a system that identifies problems with undesired employee behaviors? Do we have resources to respond to incidents? Is our employee/employer relationship respectful and consistent? Have we secured our workforce from outside risks?

Recognizing, reporting and defusing anger before it turns violent is a key component to creating and keeping a safe and harmonious work environment, and can help reinforce an organization's workplace violence policy.

Tom Grey, CHCM, is the President of Grey & Associates. Tom is dedicated to develop safety processes that help companies become performance driven.
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