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Risk in Context

How to Help Mitigate Threat of Workplace Violence

Posted by Chandra Seymour January 29, 2016

Each year, two million American workers are victims of workplace violence. 

Yet the majority of workplace violence incidents don’t involve weapons or murder — and don’t make the headlines. But what exactly constitutes “workplace violence?”

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.” It can be physical – kicking, spitting, hitting, or pushing – or more verbal in nature – shouting, swearing or insults, racial or sexual abuse, threats, and intimidation.

If the past several years’ news headlines are an indication, workplace violence does not discriminate. It can occur nearly any place at any time. According to OSHA, the occupations that show the highest rate of workplace violence are:

  • Retail and restaurant employees, especially in convenience stores, fast food establishments, and gas stations.
  • Healthcare professionals, especially home health care workers, such as visiting nurses and psychiatric evaluators.
  • Educators, especially in technical/industrial schools.
  • Public service and social workers, such as probation officers.
  • Bartenders.
  • Customer service agents.
  • Law enforcement officers and security guards.

In addition to disgruntled or troubled employees, perpetrators of workplace violence can come from outside an organization’s walls. In consumer industries such as retail/restaurant and hospitality, workplace violence predominantly happens when simple robberies go wrong.

A Three-Pronged Plan to Combat Workplace Violence

Employers must develop strategies to help protect their employees from both inside and outside threats. Although all threats cannot be eliminated, a three-pronged risk management plan can help you to:

  • Better identify potential issues before they escalate.
  • Protect employees, customers, and others during an event.
  • Return to normal operations as soon as possible after an event.

An effective plan should include the following three elements:

  1. Workforce awareness training. Employees need to be educated in advance on their organization’s workplace violence policies, how to identify and report a potential threat, and what to do in the event of an incident, whether verbal or physical.
  2. Workplace violence planning. Employers should work with a multidisciplinary team inside and/or outside the organization to help identify, mitigate, manage, and respond to possible and actual threats.
  3. Risk transfer solutions. Because a violent incident can harm a business, steps should be taken to protect the organization from liability and business interruption, including a combination of insurance coverages.

Workplace violence incidents — whether the type experienced daily in health care and retail settings, or more extreme events involving firearms and loss of life — represent a terrifying prospect for US employers and employees. An effective workplace violence risk management program can help your organization safeguard its employees, its reputation, and its bottom line.

Related to:  Marsh Risk Consulting

Chandra Seymour

Senior Vice President, MRC Reputational Risk and Crisis Management