Workplace violence hurts a lot of people. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 2 million Americans are victims of non-fatal violence in the workplace; it is also the cause of around 1,000 homicides per year in the U.S. It is a major problem that has serious, lasting consequences for employees, their families and the organizations they work for.

This issue, that impacts so many workers in industries like security as well as healthcare, can be complex and not always as simple as physical violence, which is still a major factor but not the only one to consider. The comprehensive nature of workplace violence is addressed in the OSHA’s definition that says, “Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.”

In order to address the many challenges that come with such a significant occupational hazard, employers must look at what they can do now to prepare their people and organization for what lies down the road. Protecting workers can be difficult and stressful for organizations; however, the threat of violence adds another level of occupational hazard that must be addressed immediately.

The impact of workplace violence

Workplace violence is a workplace safety risk that must be managed urgently because of how much damage it can cause to not only the person, but their loved ones and the company and its operations. In addition to their physical well-being, it harms their psychological one as well with researchers finding “victims of violence are more likely to experience demoralization, depression, loss of self-esteem, ineptitude as well as signs of post-traumatic stress disorders like sleeping disorders, irritability, difficulty concentrating, reliving of trauma and feeling emotionally upset.”

This impacts the people around the employee, including family members, friends and coworkers, requiring time off to heal — for both physical and emotional injuries. This could affect operations and the organization’s reputation may suffer, experiencing high turnover with staff who are concerned about being assaulted or harassed while at work.

Understanding the warning signs

There are several warning signs or violence precursors that can be identified early on, allowing security employers to prevent work circumstances that could require their employees to work in these dangerous circumstances.

The most obvious sign is changes in behavior and mood, including disrespectful interaction with coworkers and management. Engagement and communication with this person are increasingly difficult and challenging.

Noticeable indecisiveness and faulty decision-making can be indicative, resulting in mistakes at work as well as frustrating circumstances for everyone involved. This impacts the employees’ work dynamic as well as the work itself.

When the employee distances themselves or socially isolates themselves, this can be a sign, impacting communication and how they support each other while on the job or at a site.

Direct or indirect threats towards coworkers, clients or members of the public is part of the harassment and intimidation that is mentioned in the OSHA definition, which is not as obvious as a physical altercations and assault.

No matter where your workers perform their jobs — day or night — they deserve employment and safety that’s proactive and that’s being prioritized now so they do not need to worry about lies ahead tomorrow.”

Addressing the warning signs

If an employee begins displaying these types of behaviors, or other employees have reported their concerns, there are several steps that employers can take to mitigate the potential threat of a violent incident in the future.

  • Training and education — With security staff, make sure they are well-trained in how to properly deal with violent members of the public and other personnel they may have to work with, including coworkers. Safety training can specify safety protocols when reporting a violent incident as well as emergency response and incident management.
  • Exhaustive safety hazard assessment — Before anyone is hurt, employers can thoroughly look at the current environments and sites where their security guards work to determine if and which occupational violence hazards exist. Hazard assessments can be performed, documenting all occupational dangers, as well as one-on-one consultation with employees and staff-wide surveys.
  • Leverage technology and automation — If violence is identified as a possible occupational hazard, then it is the employer’s responsibility to equip their lone, at-risk security staff with tools, such as panic buttons for hotel workers, that allows them to request immediate help if they feel threatened or in danger. Many lone security staff are, at times, working alone and therefore more vulnerable to a range of hazards like violence. Whichever the device, these people deserve tools that will help protect them.
  • Build violence prevention program — If workplace violence is a prevalent, ongoing issue and hazard within your organization, a violence prevention program would be needed to manage its complexities and ensure that safety protocols and procedures are updated as needed or required by local OHS legislation.
  • Culture of support —While not as simple as the previous safety steps, to combat workplace violence, employers need to create a safety culture of support when it comes to making the safety of security workers a priority. Within your organization, provide accessible, discreet channels for workers to report concerns or any of the precursors mentioned earlier, providing a work environment where employees feel supported when they feel their safety is at risk.

No matter where your workers perform their jobs — day or night — they deserve employment and safety that’s proactive and that’s being prioritized now so they do not need to worry about lies ahead tomorrow.