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Three Tips to Minimize the Risk of Deadly Workplace Violence

Employee-on-employee murder continues to be a problem in the United States.

My ongoing research project "The Killer in the Next Cubicle" reflects the fact that 26 Americans were killed at work not by strangers but by co-workers or former co-workers thus far in 2017.

My research reflects certain common themes including the presence of prior, and in some cases serious, unacceptable workplace conduct by employees who go on to kill.

How might an employer mitigate the risk of workplace violence?

Ryan Birse, 22, murdered by a coworker at work February 25, 2016. (Photo Birse family collection)

Encourage Employees to Speak Up.

If any employee is concerned about the conduct of others in the workplace, he/she should be told to listen to their internal voice rather than disregarding it.

Some employees believe that by ignoring inappropriate words or conduct it will dissipate or disappear. Sometimes it does. Other times unfortunately it escalates.

Thus, employees should be advised to report safety concerns to a human resources officer, supervisor or other appropriate party.

It goes without saying that organizational leaders should never look the other way if they observe or become aware of inappropriate workplace behaviors.

If there is an immediate threat or concern for safety, law enforcement should be contacted immediately.

Safety Committee

Workplace violence and its prevention should be placed on the safety committee’s meeting agenda. It should be studied, addressed, and discussed at least as frequently as such things as occupational accidents and injuries are.

The safety committee must be empowered to do its job effectively. For example, there should be a mechanism in place to ensure that that when employees exercise internal human resources grievance procedures to report conduct that includes episodes of workplace violence, said information is to be brought to the safety committee’s attention. Too often it is not.

Safety committees should be comprised of individuals throughout an organization’s hierarchy from line staff to the highest-ranking management official or his/her designee. This will ensure feedback and representation from throughout the workplace.

The safety committee must do more than simply discuss workplace safety during meetings. The commitment to develop a safe working environment should be ongoing.

Safety committee members should see their role from a proactive perspective with the fundamental focus being on recommending ways to prevent future violence from occurring.

For instance, the safety committee should develop appropriate written safety procedures and protocols. All-employee training sessions designed to educate staff as to what workplace violence is and specific steps to take to voice any concerns should be regularly conducted.

Additionally, if such external sources as the organization’s employee practices liability insurer or worker’s compensation carrier offers training or proposed standardized written policies, the organization should take advantage of same.

When workplace violence takes its deadliest form, law enforcement is always contacted. Law enforcement should be considered as an additional resource for prevention-related activities.

Management should consult with the local authorities and obtain their advice regarding workplace safety, invite them to meet with the safety committee and participate in employee training sessions.

Exercise Care in Recruiting and Staffing.

It is a time-consuming challenge to convince an angry or even violent employee to reform. In some cases this behavior is life-long and can be extremely difficult to deal with.

A better strategy is to avoid adding such an employee to the workforce.

Thus one of the best ways to develop a safe workplace is to avoid hiring employees who are disruptive and who have been behavioral problems with past employers. An employee who has been a problem in the past will likely continue to be a problem in the future.

In other words, avoid mis-hires and only bring on board the best candidates for all job openings.

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