Workplace violence and harassment can be detrimental to a company’s culture and bottom line. People do not just suddenly snap; there is usually an emotional build-up or a trigger that precipitates the outburst or violent incident.
Who’s at most risk? How can we prevent this within the workplace?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) takes workplace violence very seriously. The agency publishes a list of Workers’ Rights, including the right to be free of workplace violence, and the procedures for addressing violent incidents. It is no secret that violence prevention is a key component of a strong workplace health and safety policy. To craft a responsive violence prevention policy, let’s take a look at how OSHA defines workplace violence, what kinds of protections exist for workers, and the OSHA best practices for a violence prevention policy.
OSHA uses a very broad definition of workplace violence, which encompasses any act of physical or mental harm in the workplace. According to the OSHA website, workplace violence includes “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite.” There are a wide range of behaviors that fall under the scope of workplace violence, from verbal abuse and threats to physical altercations and homicide. Workplace violence is the third leading cause of occupational injuries in the United States. It is vital for every organization to address this issue, even if the organization is at low risk for violence or has little to no history of violent incidents.
OSHA emphasizes that every worker is legally entitled to a safe workplace. The agency also lists the most at-risk occupations, affirms workers’ rights to workplace health and safety, and outlines the elements of a successful violence prevention policy.
People working in certain occupations may face unique or heightened risks of workplace violence, due to either the nature or circumstances of the job. Several professions immediately come to mind as having a higher risk of injury or violence:
However, there are less obvious examples of workplaces subject to an elevated risk of violence. The following workers are also at risk:
There are just as many potential triggers for workplace violence as there are types of workplace violence. It’s important to be mindful of the variety of settings or circumstances that can lead to an escalation of violence. Although violence can spring from a variety of factors, there are a few common warning signs:
OSHA has a list of Workers’ Rights, a series of broad guarantees for workplace health and safety. These rights can be more narrowly applied to the objective of guarding against workplace violence.
According to OSHA, workers have the right to:
Incorporating OSHA protections against workplace violence can greatly strengthen workplace health and safety policy. It ensures that workers know their rights and have access to resources if they experience incidents of violence. It also sends the message that workplace violence will be taken seriously and dealt with accordingly. The OSHA Workers’ Rights provide a useful template for crafting a workplace health and safety policy that has zero-tolerance for any kind of violence. Each organization and industry may wish to provide additional safeguards and expectations, depending on its level of risk. Here is what such a policy might broadly look like, and how it fulfills each of the OSHA Workers’ Rights.
Elements of a workplace violence prevention policy: