The Virginia Beach shooting that killed 12 people last week was a grave reminder of the risk of workplace violence. We hear about incidents of workplace violence every day. From deadly shootings to fistfights, assaults are a common threat, and no type of business is exempt from the danger. As workplace violence increases, the need to manage this risk is greater than ever.
The Increase in Assaults
Business owners and managers do their best to keep their employees safe from dangerous falls, faulty equipment and other known hazards. But what about other people? According to the National Safety Council, assaults are the fourth leading cause of work-related deaths.
In 2017, workplace assaults resulted in 458 deaths, as well 18,400 injuries and illnesses involving at least two days away from work. This represents an alarming increase. In 2011, for comparison, assaults resulted in 11,690 injuries and illnesses involving at least two days away from work.
The total number of assaults is even higher. According to OSHA, approximately 2 million American workers become the victim of workplace violence each year.
Even assaults that do not result in death or missed work must be taken seriously. These assaults can cause low morale and may expose the company to liability issues. These incidents may also be the first warning signs of more violent behavior to come.
Where the Risk is Greatest
Workplace violence can be broken down into four categories, according to the CDC:
- Criminal Intent
- Personal Relationship
No industry is immune to the threat, but some industries have a much higher risk than others. According to the National Safety Council, the vast majority of workplace assaults – 99 percent of them – occurred in service-providing industries of some type.
Healthcare, social services, retail and transportation industries are among those with a considerable risk for workplace violence – but again, no industry is completely safe.
Managing the Risk
Workplace violence comes in many forms, so managing the risk requires effort on many fronts.
- Address the issue. The National Safety Council recommends a workplace policy with three elements:
- Employee training and an emergency action plan
- Mock training exercises with local law enforcement
- A zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence
- Understand your industry. Health care workers often are often assaulted by patients with mental and substance abuse problems, while retail workers are often assaulted by criminals trying to steal goods or money. To limit your company’s risks, you need to understand what those specific risks are. OSHA provides guidance plans for different industries, including the following:
- Social Services
- Late-Night Retail
- Taxi and For-Hire Drivers
- Secure the workplace. Strong security measures will help reduce the likelihood of violence in any industry. OSHA recommends the following steps:
- Video surveillance
- Extra lighting
- Alarm systems
- Drop safes to limit the amount of cash kept on hand
- Secure access points that use badges, electronic keys and guards
- Protect field workers. Whether they’re delivering pizza or providing home health services, field workers may be exposed to additional risks. OSHA recommends the following measures to keep field workers safe:
- Give cell phones and alarms or noise devices to field staff.
- Instruct employees not to enter unsafe locations or hazardous situations.
- Use a buddy system, escort service or police assistance at night or for other dangerous situations.
For more tips, see the OSHA Fact Sheet.