By the time you finish reading this article, about 12 people will be victims of workplace violence—acts ranging from verbal abuse to assaults and homicides (the latter accounting for about 20% of workplace fatalities).

OSHA’s general duty clause states, “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

When it comes to workplace violence, fulfilling this duty to protect involves many considerations, says Mike Miele, Northeast sub-regional EHS manager at EATON Corporation and expert on workplace violence.

Miele explains that violent acts in the workplace stem from a combination of direct and indirect drivers.

“Direct drivers include people’s ability to get their hands on weapons and wanting to be a copycat after seeing violent acts on the news,” he says.

An indirect driver can be a personal problem that a person sees no way to solve and “feels a level of hopelessness that drives them to act out violently.”

Creating an EAP

Companies can’t eliminate workplace violence, but they can take steps to reduce its likelihood.

The key component of an EAP is the establishment of a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.
The first step is developing an Emergency Action Plan, which forces a business to systematically identify and gauge risk factors by examining physical facilities, the surrounding environment, and onsite job functions.

The key component of an EAP is the establishment of a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.

All employees need to know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be addressed promptly and investigated thoroughly.

By the same token, it’s key that employees understand their obligation to report all incidents, including possible precursors to a violent act, such as unusual behavior or changes in a person’s temperament.

“Invariably, upon reviewing a situation, the data shows there were warning signs that someone did not recognize or report,” says Miele.

An effective EAP should also include:

  • A method for reporting emergencies
  • Evacuation policies and procedures
  • Emergency contact information for key staff
  • Information on medical facilities
  • An emergency notification system
Encourage employees to be aware of their environment and the possible dangers.
In addition, your EAP should not be a static document; it should be reevaluated annually to address changing work conditions.
As part of your EAP, it’s important that you conduct a vulnerability review of your workplace.

Your review should include determining what control measures would work best to prevent unwanted access to the premises—for example, extra lighting, video surveillance, increased guard presence, enhanced visitor registration procedures, and alarm system upgrades.

You should also prepare employees for situations in which your company’s security is breached or an employee becomes violent.

Encourage employees to be aware of their environment and the possible dangers.

For example, if employees are working at night, urge them to leave your facility in pairs. All employees should take note of the nearby exits and always alert supervisors of any safety or security concerns.

If the Unthinkable Happens

Regardless of how much a company prepares, there’s no guarantee that its workers will not be the target of a violent perpetrator.

Instruct employees to follow three principles if a violent situation should occur: Run, hide, and when all else fails—fight.

This is one time you do not want your company to be a trailblazer.
You’ll also need to create a post-incident plan; in this era of social media, the dissemination of information after a violent incident can quickly get beyond your control.

Consider the following:

  • Designate a spokesperson
  • Create a process that accounts for employees
  • Determine a method for notifying families of affected individuals
  • Update staff
  • Offer post-trauma counseling services

Another important component of your post-event analysis is to assess your EAP’s effectiveness in handling the event so you can make any necessary changes.

Finally, Miele urges, “Reach out to local authorities; take advantage of the resources that are out there. This is one time you do not want your company to be a trailblazer.”