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Controlling the threat of workplace violence

The headlines garnered by the arrest of a Yale lab technician who was charged with murdering a graduate student in the research building where they both worked is a sobering reminder of the insidious, unexpected nature of workplace violence. According to Bureau of Justice statistics, an estimated 1.7 million workers are injured each year in workplace assaults – an average of 33,000 per week.

Workplace violence is a difficult subject for employers. It’s hard to talk about and no one wants to believe it can happen in their company. Yet the threat is very real.

Strategies to help prevent workplace violence include:

  • Developing a Workplace Violence Policy Statement that sets the standards for acceptable workplace behavior.
  • Establishing a zero-tolerance approach: no violence and no threats, even in a joking manner.
  • Clear, written policy, detailing how threats can be reported and how they will be investigated.
  • Preemployment screening and background checks consistent with privacy protection and antidiscriminatory laws.
  • Recognize common potential “triggers”:
    • Personality conflicts
    • Termination/disciplinary actions
    • Drug or alcohol abuse
    • Personal problems, domestic issues
    • Layoffs
    • Undue stress
  • Be alert to warning signs:
    • Outbursts of anger
    • Changes in behavior
    • Feelings of unfair treatment
    • Defensive, hostile attitude
    • Depression
    • Withdrawal
    • Suicide threats
  • Investigate all threats thoroughly.
  • Address all threats and threatening behavior and apply discipline consistent with the severity and company policy.
  • Train all staff on workplace violence and what steps to take should it occur.

There are a number of excellent, free resources available to help develop a program:
FBI -Workplace Violence – Issues in Responses
OSHA –Workplace Violence
NIOSH – Video – Violence on the Job
Resources / References