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Workplace violence prevention and employer responsibility.

You see it more and more on TV--violence in the workplace. It can range from homicide to physical assaults, threats and verbal abuse. Workplace violence, which can include domestic violence incidents in the workplace, are an area that employers need to address in their training plans.

OSHA says that some 2 million workers are victims of some sort of workplace violence each year. Some of our telco employees fall into categories that might be at an increased risk. Jobs that handle money (yes, many telco customers bring cash into your offices to pay their bills) and outside technicians who often travel by themselves or during late nights for outages or into "bad" areas are certainly at an increased level for potential workplace violence attacks. OSHA specifically identifies utility employees (phone and cable installers) in its materials about workplace violence. Specifically, this means you need to train your employees to recognize signs and know what to do when they potentially are in these kinds of situations.

The "SHRM Workplace Violence Survey," published in 2012, found that over one-third (36%) of organizations reported incidents of workplace violence. Many employers have addressed the threat of workplace violence by installing security systems, developing zero-tolerance policies, training employees relative to awareness and recognition of employees at risk, intervening with employees who are at risk, and establishing employee assistance programs, among other responses and training plans.

Specifically, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse that occurs in the work setting. Acts such as psychological trauma due to threats, obscene phone calls, an intimidating presence and harassment of any kind are included.

NIOSH classifies perpetrators of workplace violence and domestic violence in the workplace into four types:

1. Criminal intent: The perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence. These crimes can include robbery, shoplifting, trespassing and terrorism. The vast majority of workplace homicides (85%) fall into this category.

2. Customer or client: The perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business. This category includes customers, clients, patients, students, inmates and any other group for which the business provides services. It is believed that a large portion of customer/client incidents occur in the health care industry in settings such as nursing homes or psychiatric facilities; the victims are often patient caregivers. Police officers, prison staff, flight attendants and teachers are other examples of workers who may be exposed to this kind of workplace violence, which accounts for approximately 3% of all workplace homicides.

3. Worker-on-worker: The perpetrator is an employee or past employee who attacks or threatens another employee(s) or past employee(s) in the workplace. Worker-on-worker fatalities account for approximately 7% of all workplace homicides.

4. Personal relationship: The perpetrator usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. This category includes victims of domestic violence assaulted or threatened while at work and accounts for about 5% of all workplace homicides.

Many stresses and conflicts at work could cause conditions that increase the likelihood of workplace violence, like layoffs, unachievable production requirements and rigid/authoritarian management styles. Add that to personal stress of finances, family disputes and sometimes psychological instability, and it's not a surprise that there are so many incidents of workplace violence.

Certainly, most employees with grievances don't become violent. However, violent incidents in the workplace ordinarily follow some sort of "trigger" that pushes an already vulnerable person to take drastic action. Be wary of employees who start to behave in the ways listed below:

1. They say they've been treated unfairly.

2. They say they're being forced to wait for something (a promotion, raise, etc.).

3. They show signs of mental instability.

4. They begin to isolate themselves, are thought of as a loner.

5. They have recently been disciplined for something.

Some ideas of things employers can do to help protect their employees include:

* Provide safety training so they know what conduct is not acceptable and what to do if they see violence. Many times your local police department will come in and provide this training.

* Secure the workplace with extra lighting outside if it's dark when people arrive or depart from work, and have surveillance and security systems.

* Minimize access by nonemployees by having ID badges or electronic keys, or have all guests sign in when they come and go.

* Don't keep a lot of cash on hand in your offices where customers pay their bills. Stagger the times your office personnel take the money to the bank each day.

* Tell your technicians if they don't feel safe that they do not have to enter a customer's house by themselves, and allow them to get reinforcements from the office.

Always contact the local police and get a report filed if you experience any violence at the workplace. Of course, get medical treatment provided, if necessary. Inform victims of their rights to prosecute the offenders, and make any changes to your training and/or physical plant that are necessary to help prevent violence from occurring in the future.

Employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace. Those that do not take reasonable steps to prevent or mitigate a recognized violent hazard can definitely be fined. Take advantage of resources to provide training for your employees in how to recognize and prevent workplace violence.

Marilyn A. Blake is chief operating officer at Telcom Insurance Group. Contact her at mab@ telcominsgrp.com.
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Title Annotation:RISK Manager
Author:Blake, Marilyn A.
Publication:Rural Telecommunications
Date:Nov 1, 2015
Words:936
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