I am pleased to announce that Craig Safety Technologies along with the Alliance Against Workplace Violence will commemorate the month of April, 2012 as Workplace Violence Awareness Month.  This month we hope to highlight the preventable nature of most workplace violence incidents and promote campaigns of remembrance for those workers who have been injured or killed in the workplace by violence.

The slogan above was taken from a US Department of Labor poster (2010) commemorating Workers’ Memorial Day. We encourage all of you to spend the month of April, 2012 holding events to raise public awareness of workplace violence, culminating in Workers’ Memorial Day.

Over the next 4 weeks we will post  a 4 part series on Workplace violence hoping to prevent this from occurring again. Please visit alliance against workplace violence  on facebook and twitter  as well as Craig Safety Technologies FB and Twitter for more resources and to post your suggestions. This will be the first annual commemoration of Workplace Violence Awareness Month! Let us know what you think!

7 Ways to Recognize Workplace Violence

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (2009), 521 of the 4,349 fatal work related injuries were classified as workplace homicide. That is 12%, which is frightfully astounding. This is workplace violence in its most extreme form, the FOURTH leading cause of fatal work injuries. With a recent increase in workplace assaults, many work settings have observed the environmental conditions associated with workplace violence, identified them, and implemented control strategies to work to prevent these incidents from recurring.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has released a series of guidelines and recommendations involving workplace violence to the public. However, OSHA has yet to initiate official rule-making or create a true set of standards for these situations. Over 25 states have adopted their own OSHA approved standards and enforcement policies.

Workplace violence has been defined as “incidents where people are assaulted, abused or threatened in circumstances relating to work. The level of violence is typically classified as the behavior with the potential to cause harm. When workplace violence situation occurs it can cause a challenge to worker safety, health and well-being.

Workplace violence can be separated into three broad categories:
*The lowest form is “non-physical violence” in which the assaults are primarily verbal.
*The second form is “physical violence,” is used in reference to fights in which no additional weapons are used.
*The third and most dangerous form is “aggravated physical violence” in which violent acts are committed with the use of an item or weapon, such as a gun, knife or even work related objects.

Regardless of the intensity, any form of violence should be seen as harmful to both the company and its workers. Verbal abuse can cause tension, increase stress or lead to more dangerous situations with staff. On the business side workplace violence will decrease value, staff morale and even public image. These are the possible risks along with the necessary financial compensation which comes when injuries occur within the organization. If negligence can be proven as a factor leading to a violent act, the company can come under legal attack and face large fines, compensation payments and higher insurance costs.

The optimum way to decrease workplace violence is to prevent it from happening. It is important to know why these violent outbreaks typically occur. While it should seem as a last result to many, violence is seen as a ‘functional’ behavior in psychological terms, meaning it is a way someone can get what they want, or the act provides them with some tangible benefit. What they want to accomplish can range from influencing others to calling attention towards themselves.

The best course of action in reducing workplace violence occurrences is to build a culture of safety within the office and promote physical and mental well being. These acts can lead to a less stressful environment and potentially preventing workplace violence. Beyond prevention the next best step is to be able to “recognize” or observe a situation that can potentially escalate into a violent issue. Typically there will be an increasing set of clues that precede an act of violence; unfortunately, these clues are often ignored thus escalating the chance of an outburst.

The following 7 behaviors can be seen as potential ‘Warning Signs’ that may lead to eventual workplace violence. Recognizing these occurrences and properly addressing them will exponentially increase workplace safety:

* If a worker has a chemical dependence with any alcohol or drug which can cause an increase in paranoia or aggressive behavior
*Requiring repeated instruction, repetition of errors and other concentration problems can be signs of a troubled employee
* Depression can lead to outbursts so it is important to watch for signs of depression including a slowed work pace, blank facial expressions, inappropriate guilt/shame, etc.
* If the worker has a history of violence
* Negative reactions to poor performance reviews, especially if the individual cares a great deal of the work they are doing
*Romantic obsessions which may lead to inappropriate behavior such as multiple phone calls, stalking and unwanted visits
* Any form of verbal threat or other activity that is seen as ‘out of character’ for a co-worker

If any of the above signs are noted from fellow employees it is critical that you speak with your employer and disclose any potential risks to the company. Once the employer is made aware of the situation it is best to develop a plan to relax the situation or calm the troubled employee down. The first job of any worker is to always be aware and be ready.

Recognizing workplace violence behavioral tendencies is critical in reducing the number of workplace violence instances. It all begins when a new employee enters the company. Are they taught to observe and encouraged to report unusual occurrences? Are plans in place to assess the situation? These are questions a employer must ask themselves. Wherever they may find deficiencies it is of immediate importance to find a solution to the problem.

Dr. Isabel Perry prescribes solutions to reduce risk, costs and increase production for all types of organizations. Dr. Perry is an Orlando, Florida based Safety Professional with over 20 years of broad-based safety experience including: safety speaker, safety consultant, expert witness, and former safety executive at a Fortune 50 company. Her clients include many multinational firms. Dr. Perry’s can be contacted at: Isabel@TheSafetyDoctor.com, phone: 407-291-1209.

Part 1 of 4 articles in the workplace violence series.