Reduce The Risk of Workplace Violence

Develop a zero-tolerance policy and offer training to prevent on-the-job violence.

April 15, 2013

In light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., prudent employers are evaluating the risk of violence in the workplace.

Workplace violence involves any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening behavior that occurs on the job. Two million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year—and homicide is the nation’s fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries.
To address this problem, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new directive, which establishes agency procedures for investigating and responding to complaints of workplace violence. Credit unions are vulnerable to violence due to the daily exchange of money and high volume of member visits.
Implementing effective safety measures can reduce workplace violence. Such measures include training staff, developing procedures to report any assault or threat of violence, assessing worksite hazards, and installing alarm systems or metal detectors.
OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all workers. Failure to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace violence can result in citations for employers.
OSHA has identified different types of violence employers should address in their workplace violence prevention plans. They include violence perpetrated by:
  • Strangers. This includes violence such as verbal threats or physical assaults by someone who has no legitimate business relationship to the credit union (i.e., a robbery or other criminal act).
  • Members. This could be a current or former member who comes to the workplace and commits or attempts to commit an act of violence.
  • Co-workers. This is a growing risk in the workplace due to struggles related to the economy and the high cost of insurance and medical care for mental health needs. This type of violence can arise when an individual believes he or she has received unfair treatment in the workplace.
  • Personal relations. This arises out of a personal relationship between an employee and someone else, such as a spouse, significant other, or friend.
Domestic violence is a growing threat in the workplace. Credit unions should educate management on the signs of domestic violence and ensure that policy manuals address specific state laws, which allow protected leave for victims of domestic violence to attend court or take other steps to obtain safety.
To reduce the risk of all types of workplace violence, credit unions should develop a policy that states there is zero tolerance for violence at work, regardless of whether the violence originates inside or outside the credit union. It should require employees to report any threats or acts of violence, and require disciplinary action for staff who violate the policy.
Credit unions also should:
  • Assess potential hazards to identify how to lower the risk of workplace violence, such as implementing cash-handling best practices, separating employees from members, improving visibility and lighting, and making sure there are adequate exits, security devices, cameras, and mirrors.
  • Train employees so they can identify the different types of violence and know how to resolve conflicts peacefully. This will reduce the risk of volatile situations escalating to physical violence.

    Training sessions should address not only the risk of robbery, but also interactions with disgruntled members and those who have personal relationships with employees.
  • Implement administrative controls. These include staffing plans and work practices such as the use of security guards, opening and closing of branches, and training on how to use security equipment.
  • Identify and train a response team to be responsible for the immediate care of victims and the re-establishment of work areas and processes.
  • Offer an employee assistance program with a counselor or therapist for little or no cost to staff. This will help staff confidentially address personal or family problems, and even workplace frustrations.
These steps are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement to reduce the risk of violence at your workplace.
KELLY TILDEN is a shareholder at Farleigh Wada Witt, Portland, Ore.