If you think it can't happen in your workplace, think again. According to security specialist Frank Teti, one out of every four employees is threatened, harassed, or killed in the workplace during the course of their working lives.
However, says Teti, a little effort and preparation can go a long way toward getting the better of these statistics. At a gathering of CBIA's Safety & Health Roundtable, he offered employers these suggestions for preventing workplace violence:
Adopt a zero tolerance policy. Issue a written statement that the company strives to maintain a productive work environment free from the threat of violence and is committed to the safety and health of its employees, customers, and visitors. Include examples of the types of conduct that will not be tolerated, such as: physical assault or the threat of assault; intimidation; harassing remarks, voice mails, or e-mails; possessing or threatening with a weapon; use of drugs or alcohol at work.
Identify a Human Resources, security, or other management representative for employees to contact if they observe violations of the policy. The company's CEO should sign and date the statement. Post the statement in the workplace where employees will see it, include it in the employee handbook, and be sure to discuss it with new employees during orientation.
Prohibit weapons at work. Have a written policy that prohibits firearms and other weapons on company property, in company vehicles, or in personal vehicles while conducting company business. This can be part of the zero tolerance policy or it can be issued as a separate written statement; if separate, have it signed and dated by the CEO. Indicate that employees who violate the policy may face disciplinary action. Post signs around the facility and grounds warning customers and visitors that weapons should not be carried onto your company property unless needed for security, law enforcement, or other official job duties.
Rely on your supervisors. Most violent acts are not committed by employees who "just snap." Train managers and supervisors to recognize these early warning signs of employee stress: a change in personality; verbal conflicts; anxiety; family problems; drinking, drug abuse, or gambling; losing out on a promotion or raise. A manager who overhears any type of verbal threat-direct or veiled-must let the staff involved know that such behavior is unacceptable.
Form a crisis management team. Don't wait until there's a problem to decide who can best handle a complaint or an incident. Put together a crisis management team that includes representatives from security/safety, human resources, legal, medical, the union, facilities, and communications. Someone should head it with decision-making authority, preferably a member of senior management.
Consider an employee communication hotline. Some employers have found it helpful to set up a direct line to HR or security that can be used by employees to report any strange or violent behavior. Post hotline information on employee bulletin boards and discuss it at orientation, safety and health meetings, and staff meetings. Confidentiality is a must with such a hotline. If employees are concerned about their voices being recognized, a third party service can be used as an intermediary.
Handle terminations carefully. There are a number of steps you can take to keep a termination from triggering an act of violence. Barring extreme situations, no employee should be blind-sided with termination; the employee should have a pretty good idea that it's coming. Treat the employee with respect. Terminate in a private office and at the end of the shift. Prepare a script. Be honest with the employee about why termination is required and what specific company policies were violated; discuss medical and other benefits and provide a final payroll check. Do not terminate the employee alone; at least one other person should be present. Retrieve company property, keys, and identification; notify security.