Employee safety and violence in the workplace

Employee safety and violence in the workplace

There are many aspects to safety and security in the workplace. Violence is one of them. SHEQ MANAGEMENT explores the causes, warnings signs and prevention of violence in the workplace.

Violence is a topic that is rarely addressed when looking at health and safety in the workplace. However, if an act of violence were to occur at work, it would be a very real hazard to the health and safety of everyone in the organisation.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States of America, workplace violence is any act, or threat, of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behaviour that occurs in the workplace. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse, to physical assaults and even homicide, and can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.

Although workplace violence is a concern for everyone, a number of industries and certain environments are at a higher risk. According to a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), industries that require employees to “exchange money with the public, work alone or in small groups, deliver passengers, or work late hours or early morning shifts”, are considered to be high risk.

Unfortunately, crime and violence are major problems facing South African society in general. “With crime statistics on the rise and an increase in violence, it is important for businesses to prepare themselves and their employees on how to deal with such problems,” says Ryan Binedell, group health and safety manager at the Gordon Verhoef and Krause Group of companies, specialists in the field of building, renovation, restoration and the recycling of buildings.

Binedell says dealing with crime and violence on construction sites is generally handled during the induction process, where it must be stated that crime and/or violence will not be tolerated in any form. Prior to gaining entry to a site, Binedell suggests employees should be checked at the gate by security for weapons.

Preventing workplace violence is the key to dealing with it. OSHA believes the best protection employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against, or by, their employees.

“The employer should establish a workplace violence prevention programme, or incorporate the information into an existing accident-prevention programme, employee handbook, or manual of standard operating procedures,” says OSHA. “It is critical to ensure that all employees know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.”

OSHA encourages employers to provide safety education for employees, so that they know which conduct is unacceptable, what to do if they witness (or are subjected to) workplace violence and how to protect themselves. In addition, employers can secure the workplace. Where appropriate to the business, video surveillance, extra lighting and alarm systems can be installed and access by outsiders can be minimised through identification badges, electronic keys and guards.

Once an incident of workplace violence has occurred, OSHA recommends that employers do the following:

• Encourage employees to report and log all incidents and threats of workplace violence;

• Provide prompt medical evaluation and treatment after the incident;

• Report violent incidents to the local police promptly;

• Inform victims of their legal right to prosecute perpetrators;

• Discuss the circumstances of the incident with staff members. Encourage employees to share suggestions and information about ways to avoid similar situations in the future;

• Offer stress debriefing sessions and post-traumatic stress counselling services to help workers recover from a violent incident;

• Investigate all violent incidents and threats, monitor trends in violent incidents by type or circumstance and institute corrective actions; and

• Discuss changes in the programme during regular employee meetings.

“Business cannot afford to ignore the effects of violence and crime on their employees. The costs are far too great. Besides the obvious loss or injury, these elements have a tremendous impact on staff morale: they can increase absenteeism, instil a culture of fear and affect how management will be seen by employees, in terms of their ability to curb the crime or violence. All these factors have a direct impact on production and ultimately the bottom line,” concludes Binedell.

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