Workplace violence: what you need to know
It's a problem that disrupts the workplace and devastates the victims, its consequences immediately and potentially long term.
While the term workplace violence may conjure up images of physical assault, it’s a much broader problem. It includes any incidents in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted. Examples are rumours, swearing, verbal abuse, pranks, arguments, property damage, vandalism, sabotage, pushing, theft, physical assaults, psychological trauma, anger-related incidents, rape, arson and murder.
The violence can come from co-workers, clients, or people with no direct relationship to the workplace whose motivation ranges from personal or work-related stress, feelings of personal inadequacy, or discriminatory attitudes toward others.
While it may not be possible to predict another person’s behaviour, there are ways to minimize the risk of workplace violence.
Most Canadian jurisdictions have a “general duty provision” in their occupational health and safety legislation that requires employers to take all reasonable precautions to protect employees.
A first step for management is to state its commitment to violence prevention in a written policy. Include a definition of “violence” and examples of unacceptable behaviours (even if incidents have not occurred in the workplace) and working conditions. Also specify the consequences of making threats or committing violent acts, outline the company’s preventive measures, encourage reporting of any incidents and offer full management support.
Ensure all employees are educated on the issue of violence and know the company’s policies and procedures.
Identify risk factors and review any history of violence in the workplace as well as in similar places of employment. Ask employees about their experiences and whether they are concerned for themselves or others.
Review the workplace design to consider layout, use of signs, locks or physical barriers, lighting, building security and electronic surveillance.
Modify administrative work practices to reduce risks. While workers should never enter any situation or location where they feel threatened or unsafe, take preventive measures such as having back-up and effective monitoring and communication systems.
A safer workplace starts with employees being aware of the factors that increase the risk of violence, and with employers taking the appropriate preventative steps to keep workplaces safer.
This article was contributed by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), Canada’s national resource for the advancement of workplace health and safety. It promotes the physical, psychosocial and mental health of working Canadians by providing information, training, education and management systems to promote the health and safety.