Violence Prevention

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Violence Prevention

What is Workplace Violence?

Most people think of violence as a physical act – something someone does with the intent to physically harm another person. However, the concept of violence is broader than that. Workplace violence can also include deeds or words that make a worker think they are being threatened.

Workplace violence ranges from physical assault and verbal abuse to intimidation and threatening behaviour. It can cause physical suffering and emotional and psychological stress, with a profoundly negative effect on well-being.

The potential for workplace violence is a hazard that, unfortunately, is always present when there is interaction between workers and the public. It has to be managed just like any other hazard. Employers have to take steps to minimize risks associated with workplace violence and instruct staff in dealing with violent or potentially violent situations. It's the law, and it's also the right thing to do.

How Could Workplace Violence Affect a Business?

The costs of workplace violence include financial costs related to:

  • Worker absenteeism
  • Reduced productivity
  • Higher workers' compensation insurance premiums and medical expenses

But there are also less obvious costs that affect workers as well as employers, managers and supervisors. Consider:

  • The personal costs of emotional trauma suffered by victims and their families
  • The physical and psychological costs of stress
  • The costs of a toxic work environment
  • The cost of losing good workers

What Are Some Examples of Workplace Violence?

  • Shaking fists, destroying property, throwing objects or other threatening acts
  • Written or verbal threats to do harm
  • Verbal abuse, including swearing or insults
  • Hitting, kicking, shoving, pushing and other physical attacks

Workplace violence isn’t only limited to interactions with the public. Worker-to-worker violence is also a potential hazard. Harassment or bullying between workers can include:

  • intimidating or offensive jokes or innuendos
  • displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials
  • offensive or intimidating phone calls, emails, letters or notes
  • threatening gestures
  • behaviour intended to humiliate, demean, embarrass, threaten or annoy a co-worker

What Factors can Contribute to the Risk of Workplace Violence?

  • Working alone
  • Working late at night or early morning
  • Handling money and other valuables
  • Robbery
  • Shoplifting
  • Irate or abusive customers
  • Unwelcome members of the public such as:
    • loiterers
    • people under the influence of drugs or alcohol
    • psychologically unpredictable people

What Are the Origins of Workplace Violence?

Violent, abusive or threatening behaviour at work might have different origins such as:

  • random hostility, with no clear intent, such as from someone under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
  • intimidation, used to achieve a desired end, such as faster service
  • expression of uncontrolled irritation, such as dissatisfaction with poor service or having to wait in line
  • displaced anger from other situations, like a family disagreement
  • criminal activity like theft or robbery
  • thrill-seeking or revenge
  • cultural, religious or political differences between societal groups

What’s the Situation in Your Store?

  • Review accident report records – look at past incidents and notice any similarities about when, why and how they developed. Who was involved?
  • Talk to workers about their experiences of past violent incidents, threatening or abusive behaviour

How Can Workplace Violence be Prevented?

Having robust systems in place to protect those working alone and preventing (and dealing with) robberies are very important ways to help reduce the risks of workplace violence. They will help to ensure that the workplace itself is physically organized to discourage violence and that staff members are aware of ways to minimize risk.

  • Increase staff awareness of violence as a hazard and help workers recognize situations with the potential for violence
  • Make workers aware of the kinds of incidents that should be reported
  • Encourage open communication. If there are customers with a tendency to be abusive or threatening, let everyone know who they are
  • Train workers in how to deal with violent situations
  • Assign a particular person to deal with inquiries and reports of violent incidents
  • Provide a confidential means of reporting violent incidents and possible after-effects
  • Provide support, such as counseling, for workers who have experienced violent incidents

Teaching Staff to Prevent Violence

Here are some general staff tips for preventing violence at work:

  • Don’t carry weapons of any type, including pepper spray. Weapons just invite violence and can be used against you
  • Keep knives and sharp objects out of reach. For example, don’t leave scissors or box cutters lying on the cash counter
  • Don’t wear jewellery that could be a strangulation or theft hazard
  • Don’t use the back entrances to let people in
  • Don’t leave by exiting into poorly lit, unobserved areas

Prevent confrontations by:

  • Giving customers a friendly greeting and making brief eye contact when they enter the store. But don’t stare – that could be interpreted as a challenge or a threat.
  • Using techniques for calming irate people and defusing potentially violent situations.

Dealing with irate customers

Some strategies that will help to calm an angry customer are:

  • Focus on the person’s emotions first. If you can stay calm, it will be more likely that the person will calm down and tell you why they’re angry.
  • Try to avoid aggravating the situation. Listen to what the person has to say. Let them know you are listening and want to resolve their issue.
  • Try to put yourself in their shoes. Be sympathetic so you can better understand how to solve the problem.
  • Find ways to help the irate customer save face. Don’t make the problem their fault.
  • Get help from a co-worker if you can’t calm the person or address their concern.
  • If you can’t solve the problem right away, take the customer’s name and number and forward the information to your manager or supervisor.

Dealing with harassment

If you are being harassed or bullied by anyone, whether it’s a customer, manager or co-worker, the very first thing to do is to tell the person to stop. Do this right away. Say it clearly in person or write it in a letter or email.

If the person continues to harass you

  • Tell your employer, supervisor, or the person who is in charge of handling harassment complaints. Ask for their help – they can talk to the person to let them know they are out of line and can take disciplinary action if necessary.
  • Talk about it with someone you trust, such as a co-worker, friend, or relative.
  • Write it down. To help make your case in an investigation, write down each remark or incident (using the exact words if possible), including dates, times, places, and the names of any witnesses. Include any steps that were taken to stop the person.

When making bank deposits:

  • Vary the time and route for making bank deposits.
  • Avoid making bank deposits at night.
  • Don’t carry money in bags that make it obvious you’re carrying cash.
  • Make deposits with a co-worker, if possible. One person should make the deposit drop while the other person faces away from the depository to keep an eye on other people in the area.

Traveling to and from work:

  • Use a buddy system – walk to your car or to the bus stop with another person if you can. At least have someone watch from a window.
  • If you drive:
    • Lock your doors and roll up your windows before driving into the parking lot.
    • Scan the parking area for suspicious persons — have a plan ready in case you are uncomfortable with the situation.
    • Park in well-lit areas — avoid alleys, wooded areas, and tunnels.
    • Avoid having to reach back into the vehicle for anything.
  • If you take the bus:
    • Plan to get to the bus stop just before the bus arrives.
    • Avoid isolated or poorly lit bus stops.
    • If you see suspicious or menacing people at your stop, get off at the next stop.
    • If possible, have someone meet you when you arrive at your destination.
  • If you are confronted:
    • If you are attacked, scream loudly and for as long as possible. Run to the nearest well-lit area.
    • If someone grabs your purse, deposit bag, or other property, do not resist, and do not chase the thief.
    • Call the police immediately and try to recall the mannerisms of the attacker.

Responding to immediate violence

If a situation turns violent and you are in immediate danger, get help right away.

  • If you are alone, follow your Working Alone instructions for getting emergency assistance
  • If you are robbed, follow the instructions for dealing with robberies
  • Call security
  • Call 9-1-1
  • Write a record of the incident
  • Tell your employer and other co-workers about what happened

Download a sample Violent Incident Report form here

Are your Violence Prevention Strategies Working?

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