The Team at Invista Performance Solutions just visited a very well-known Tacoma area non-profit with a highly visible public face to their services.  Their leadership expressed deep concerns over the tangible rise of threats of violence and intimidation against their staff during the pandemic.  Their staff have even been stalked by irate area residents, unhappy with decisions their staff are required to make and enforce by law, which impacts their lives.  The IPS Team is now crafting a solution for them to include customized Active Shooter – Active Threat Response and Verbal De-Escalation training and consultation.

Over recent years, workplace violence incidents are trending in an upward direction.  We heard of 3 major events last year: the Boulder, Colorado supermarket shooting resulting in 10 victims; the eight people that lost their lives in the FedEx warehouse incident in Indianapolis; the eight people that lost their lives in the Atlanta massage parlor incident; and in 2022, most recently, the 10 fatalities at the Buffalo NY supermarket. Workplace violence incidents are costing employers millions of dollars in lost revenue, lawsuits, medical costs and more, not to mention that fear and stress created for employees and customers.

If you don’t think workplace violence can happen at your organization, you may be overly naïve or optimistic. One of our most basic needs is to feel safe, and when employees spend a majority of their lives in the workplace, safety should be an employer’s top priority. Outside of basic workplace safety, employers must now take the threat of workplace violence more seriously.

Workplace violence can take on many forms, from bullying and harassment to domestic violence and active shooters, but one thing is certain: planning and prevention can help curb workplace violence on top of saving your company thousands of dollars and countless lives. Workplace violence prevention training can teach you the ins and outs of preparing for and preventing violent incidents from occurring at your workplace.

Workplace violence is more than shooting incidents. Per OSHA, it 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. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers, and visitors. Acts of violence and other injuries is currently the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States.

The statistics on workplace violence are staggering.  According to techjury1:

  • Over 2 million people become victims of workplace violence annually
  • In 2020, 30% of the people said they were unaware of their company’s safety plan.
  • 7 % of fatalities in the workplace occurred as a result of hitting, kicking, beating, and/or pushing.
  • By April of 2021, there were 26 victims of workplace shootings
  • Women report around 30,000 sexual assaults on the job annually
  • 23% of females, who have experienced sexual harassment, said things have gotten worse since the pandemic started.
  • Over 60 million people have been bullied while at their workplace.
  • While attackers mainly aim at the head, workplace violence statistics show that:
    • 21 % of injuries have been obtained on the upper body
    • 14% affected the individual’s trunk
    • 7 % were targeted at the lower body

We must also change the way we think about workplace violence by shifting the emphasis from reactionary approaches to prevention, and by embracing workplace violence as an occupational safety and health issue

So what constitutes the workplace? Well, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace as buildings, parking lots, clients’ homes, and travel to and from work assignments.

The next question is, can an employer be held liable for workplace violence?  The answer is yes, the employers can be held liable for workplace violence cases under certain circumstances, but only if they have a duty and they were in breach of that duty.  Employers may be seen as having a general duty to employees by virtue of their employment relationship.

So how can you mitigate the potential of workplace violence? There are various ways to do this, but here is a six-step process:

Step 1. Understand workplace violence.  Learn the definitions and understand some keys to recognizing some of the signs,

Step 2. Develop a zero-tolerance policy.  Institute a zero-tolerance workplace violence policy sends a clear message to everyone that all threats or incidents of violence will be taken seriously. This policy should clearly define what acts the organizations considers to be violent behavior and what consequences will occur if the policy is broken.

Step 3. Assess the risk factors in your facility. Potential risk factors are high stress in the workplace, lack of appropriate training for supervisors, and lack of appropriate management protocols for disciplinary actions. Workplace violence hazards can be reduced by assessing your facility’s vulnerability to incidents of violence, tracking records of violence at work, examining specific violence incidents carefully and noting the location of the incident. Where possible, minimize access by outsiders through identification badges, electronic keys, and security guards.

Step 4. Develop a workplace violence prevention plan. The OSHA Workplace Violence Prevention Plan says, “A comprehensive organizational violence prevention program should include a reporting and documentation system for acts of violence and a workplace violence prevention policy that includes specific strategies that can be instituted system-wide in the event of a violent incident, as well as post-event support and adequate training of personnel for pre and post-event incident management”.

In addition to a zero-tolerance policy, the hospital can create procedures to tell employees and volunteers how they are expected to handle specific threats. All hospital employees should notify management of any threats that they’ve witnessed or were told about. Employees should always report the presence of a weapon immediately to a manager, a supervisor, or if appropriate, to law enforcement.

Step 5. Train and deploy staff. Provide safety education for employees so they know what conduct is not acceptable, what to do if they witness or are subjected to workplace violence, as well as how to protect themselves. IPS can help with an excellent programs in both Responding to Active Threats and Verbal De-Escalation.  (https://www.invistaperforms.org/approach/customized-training/de-escalation-active-threat/)

 Step 6. Evaluate the changes and identify next steps. Recordkeeping and evaluation of the violence prevention program are necessary to determine its overall effectiveness and identify any deficiencies or changes that should be made. Timing is key to the re-evaluation of your facility/department. At the beginning of the project plan, determine a reasonable time frame for re-evaluation with the assessment tools used in Step 3. Reach out to Invista Performance Solutions for assistance with this evaluation.

Long-term efforts to reduce the level of violence in U.S. society must address a variety of social issues such as education, poverty, and environmental justice. However, short-term efforts must address the pervasive nature of violence in our society and the need to protect workers. We cannot wait to address workplace violence as a social issue alone but must take immediate action to address it as a serious occupational safety issue.

 1TechJury (2021, December 7, 2021) Teodora Dobrilova.  15 Disturbing Workplace Violence Statistics for 2021. https://techjury.net/blog/workplace-violence-statistics/#:~:text=7%25%20of%20fatalities%20in%20the%20workplace%20involve%20some,2021%2C%20there%20were%2026%20victims%20of%20workplace%20shootings.

Violence in the Workplace (1996, July) National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Current Intelligence Bulletin 57 – Developing and implementing a Workplace Violence Prevention Program and Policy. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/96-100/develop.html

29 Startling Workplace Violence Statistics [2022] April 5, 2022, Zippia Research https://www.zippia.com/advice/workplace-violence-statistics/