With workplace violence incidents on the rise, there is no excuse to not have a solid operating Workplace Violence Plan in place. After all, knowledge increases confidence, confidence increases decisiveness, and it is decisive action in a critical incident that saves lives.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates more than two million American workers are affected by workplace violence each year. In 2016 alone, there were 500 workplace homicides according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and an estimated 18,000 people suffered nonfatal injuries. The National Safety Council reports approximately 823 people died as a result of workplace violence in 2017.
And as alarming as these statistics may be, what is even more so is that OSHA believes many more cases go unreported. Therefore, we don’t even have any realistic statistics as to how many Americans are victimized by workplace violence.
Given the above, it may not come as a surprise to hear that roughly one out of seven Americans do not feel safe at work, according to new data from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Nearly half of those people polled by SHRM said their organization had at some point experienced a workplace violence incident at some level – up from 36 percent in 2012. And of those who reported having experienced workplace violence, over half said their organization had experienced an incident in the last year. What is staggering is according to SHRM’s findings only 45 percent of American workers are aware of workplace violence prevention programs at their organizations.
Shockingly, according to SHRM’s data, nearly one-third of American employees were “currently unsure or don’t know what to do if they witness or are involved in a workplace violence incident.” Nearly one in five of responding HR professionals are also unsure of what to do in such incidents. And another worrying statistic which came out of SHRM’s latest report is that organizations are less likely to have prevention programs in place to stymie workplace violence or to train workers on how to respond.
This lack of training really does concern me, especially as we’re seeing an increase in active shooter incidents. For organizations, an active shooter incident represents one of the worst-case scenarios of workplace violence. According to an FBI study, active shooter incidents have risen every year since 2000 with an average increase of 11.4 incidents a year. Based on statistics, you are 18 times more likely to encounter workplace violence and an active shooter situation than a fire. As these tragedies continue to occur more regularly and with increased severity, the concern of a workplace violence act or the likelihood of an active shooter must be seriously considered.
The Cost of Workplace Violence
There is great cost involved with an extreme workplace violence event, and this isn’t surprising to anyone. Businesses pay a heavy toll for such incidents. According to Lower & Associates, the comprehensive annual cost to business due to workplace violence is $130 billion compared to $36 billion in 1995.
Not surprisingly, the psychological consequences of directly witnessing or being a victim of workplace violence are often serious. The impact is extensive and can carry a tremendous cost. Witnesses and victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious post-event diagnoses at a significant rate. Very few people with direct involvement report no symptoms. This can result in direct losses related to medical bills, workers’ comp, and legal fees, as well as indirect losses reflected in diminished productivity, low morale, and negative publicity – all of which can have a detrimental effect on a company’s reputation, both in the short term and over the longer term.
Therefore, it’s not enough to put a better lock on the door. The answer may be within. Adequately prioritizing prevention and preparation are pivotal to addressing the epidemic we face. The first thing an organization should do is cultivate a culture of respect and trust among employees and management and eradicate a bad culture of bullying or harassment by creating a zero-tolerance policy. Creating and implementing a workplace violence plan (WVP) is also key to help tackle the issue and create a safer workplace. Employers have a moral and ethical duty to protect its workforce. They have one basic obligation to them – to provide a safe working environment free from discrimination and harassment, which means they should take all reasonable steps to ensure their health, safety, and well-being.
I spoke with Daniel Camacho, CIO of Security First Credit Union, about WPV plans. He said, “Too often we get into a routine at work of just focusing on our daily duties. We always enter through the same entrance and leave through the same exit. We never stop and think about what WPV events could happen and how you would need to react to stay safe.” He added, “Discussions on what to look for that could deescalate a situation or how to respond to a WPV event can help someone think through a plan of action. If no plan is in place or we have never discussed these situations, coming up with a plan of action in the middle of an event might be too late.”
Daniel makes some salient points here. Just like we wouldn’t want people making up evacuation routes during a fire, we don’t want people making up responses to workplace violence in real time. Also, knowing de-escalation techniques is very important! Often people’s initial responses actually make the situation worse.
BCM Professionals & WPV Plans
All businesses need a strategy and plan to deal with workplace violence so they can reduce the number of violent incidents and minimize the severity of these incidents to a larger extent.
While creating a WPV plan is different than planning for a breach or third-party vendor risk incident, it is still planning for the unexpected with the goal of maintaining resilience, as well as employee safety. Business continuity professionals are some of the most experienced employees in an organization to create a WPV plan. With the aid of a leadership committee, including members of senior management and human resources, BC professionals can systematically create a well-rounded and complete WPV plan.
A WPV plan can be an add-on to your normal business continuity plan. To create an effective plan and policy on workplace violence, there are three specific steps of preparation and response that organizations must implement to properly address workplace violence.
- Planning: It is critical to assess your work environment, culture, employees, and risks which could be a factor depending on your workplace environment. This needs to include an organized security program and access control plans, proper physical security safeguards, enforced security policies and procedures, staff training, empowerment, and an effective critical incident response capability. To adequately plan and implement these essential elements, there must be strong commitment from senior management and the board of directors to provide a high level of management support. This support includes adequate funding of the protection program.
- Policies and procedures: Organizations need to have specific policies and protocol in place for the safety of employees. These include hiring policies, which should include background checks, reference checks, and other procedures during the hiring process. There should also be ongoing background checks. Usually an employee passes a background check at hiring, works for years, and can break all kinds of laws and the employer never even knows. Also, the termination process should have a detailed procedure to thwart any potential violence. A procedure should be in place for employees to report suspicious activity in which the employee can report it anonymously. Strategic policies are needed for managing threats and violent incidents. Another important procedure is a crisis communication plan to manage communication during and after an incident. This includes social media, press releases, and public outreach and response as well as internal communications to employees. Keep in mind all of your procedures need to be evaluated as well as updated accordingly as your organization, situation, and employees evolve.
- Training: Employee training is a fundamental step in the process because even the best WPV plan will be virtually useless if employees are not trained. It has been proven that most workplace violence can be prevented by early intervention and a concern for the safety of workers, but as in all human behavior, violence may be masked by other symptoms including withdrawal, silence, and restraint – behaviors which may be mistaken for compliance or may so mask the intensity of emotions many co-workers claim they had no idea a colleague was capable of violent behavior. Given this, organizations need to create a culture of constant vigilance and implement a modern approach to employee learning and communication so people are looking for those things that indicate a fellow co-worker might pose a risk to the workplace. Employees should know the protocol to follow if they need to report suspicious activity or a potential threat.
To grasp the enormity of a possible shooting is close to incomprehensible. Trying to prepare for the worst-case scenario where lives are on the line is even more so. But increased exposure to workplace violence means it is no longer an abstract concept, but rather an issue thrust into the forefront. This is why it is so important for organizations to implement a robust WVP, as they can empower its most valuable assets – its people – and can mitigate risks, protect the safety of its employees, customers, and community.