Within a 13-hour stretch this past August, 32 employees and patrons lost their lives, 51 people were injured, and many others were traumatized by workplace violence—at just two U.S. businesses.

But the sad reality is that many other acts of violence occurred at other workplaces throughout the country during the same period.

In short, workplace violence can happen anywhere at any time. Knowing how to prevent and prepare for these tragedies is a wise investment of time and resources.

The Cost of Workplace Violence

The National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence has identified several statistics on the costly effects of these assaults:

  • Employee productivity can decrease up to 50% in the six to 18 weeks following an incident.
  • Employee turnover can escalate to 30-to-40%.
  • The average cost of single workplace homicide is between $250,000 and $1 million.
  • The average out-of-court settlement for a workplace violence lawsuit is nearly $500,000; the average jury award is $43 million.

Because of workplace violence, organizations are likely to experience an increase in workers’ compensation payments, medical services reimbursements and legal fees. Employee morale is likely to drop. And the negative publicity related to workplace violence can harm an organization’s brand and reputation.

Defining Workplace Violence

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as: “Any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening or disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.”

OSHA divides workplace violence into four categories:

  1. Employee involved with a criminal outsider (public contact/cash on site).
  2. Employee involved with a client (patient, customer or student).
  3. Employee involved with a co-worker (disgruntled or terminated employee).
  4. Employee involved with a spouse or other significant relationship (personal).

Workplace violence should be considered a major risk for employers and employees no matter the type of business or location. However, the risk for fatal violence is greater for workers in sales, protective services and transportation, while the risk for nonfatal violence resulting in days away from work is greater for health care and social assistance workers, according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Workplace Violence Prevention

Employers are responsible for creating a safe work environment. OSHA’s “general duty clause” states that employers are required to maintain “a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm.”

To reduce or prevent workplace violence, OSHA recommends several policies, risk assessments and prevention procedures:

Perform background and reference checks upon hiring and annually thereafter. Someone who passed a background check at hiring could become a risk during their employment due to life stressors. Annual reviews can be a way of identifying potential risks.

Have a zero-tolerance policy for all workplace violence. This policy should cover all employees, clients, visitors, contractors and vendors. It should define the behaviors considered workplace violence, the actions and procedures that need to be taken to address these situations and any necessary follow-up.

Behaviors considered acts of violence should include threatening body language, invasion of personal space, verbal or written threats, harassment, intimidation and physical aggression.

Perform a risk assessment of all worksites. Identify locations that are vulnerable to worksite violence, potential risk factors and methods for reduction. Also review any past incidents where violence occurred.

Create a violence prevention program. Identify a team that is responsible for the policies, practices, training, drills and reporting of potential threats in the workplace. Training should involve everyone in the organization and include information on the risk factors and guidance for identifying and responding to workplace violence. It should also include information on reporting potential risks and how these risks will be investigated and resolved.

Offer conflict resolution training to all employees so they can learn how to identify and resolve potentially violent situations before they escalate.

Create a business continuity plan. Plan for the potential impact workplace violence could have on your operations. Develop a communication plan for your stakeholders that includes information on the situation, the response provided and current operations. For your staff, identify on-site support as well as additional resources from the organization.

Workplace violence is an ongoing concern—and requires ongoing attention. Putting more locks on doors and calling 911 is not a plan. While it may be part of your plan, your most effective defense is to make sure your staff is aware and trained to report potential or actual acts of violence and knows how to respond should an event occur.

For more information on strengthening your organization’s workplace violence prevention practices, contact FEI today.