Best Practices for Starting a Workplace Violence Prevention Program

Workplace violence is a significant topic of concern for business leaders these days, especially as active shooter situations generate headlines nationwide. However, not all types of workplace violence are as clear-cut or newsworthy, as they can vary from physical to verbal to emotional abuse. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace violence is a prevalent issue across all companies where an average of nearly 2 million U.S. workers report having been a victim of violence at work each year.

As HR professionals, your team is at the frontline of workplace violence prevention, but that can also mean you become targets yourselves. A total of 19% of HR professionals are unsure of what to do if they witness or become victims of workplace violence, and 55% don’t know whether their organization has a workplace violence prevention program, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). To combat potential violence, it’s important that your company identifies the different types of workplace violence and create strategies that minimize risks.

Learn to recognize the four major types of workplace violence

The four major types of workplace violence are categorized as criminal intent, customer/client violence, worker-on-worker, and personal relationship per OSHA guidelines. Read below to learn how to recognize each type:

  • Type 1 – Criminal intent is a situation in which the perpetrator has no relationship with the organization that is targeted. An example of this type of violence would be a robbery.
  • Type 2 – Customer/client is when the perpetrator is the recipient or object of a service provided by the affected workplace or victim. Examples of potential perpetrators are clients, patients, students, etc.
  • Type 3 – Worker-on-worker violence involves an assault or threat by a current or former employee.
  • Type 4 – Personal relationship can be trickier to recognize as it’s when the perpetrator has or has had some form of relationship with the affected employee. A common example would be instances of domestic violence where the employee is threatened or assaulted at work.

Beyond learning the four major types of workplace violence, employers should recognize that there are also different forms of abuse: physical, verbal and emotional. Learn more about the distinctions between them below:

  • Physical abuse is the result of bodily injury with intent. This type of abuse only comes from non-accidental harm.
  • Verbal abuse uses language to hurt another person, says the National Domestic Violence Hotline. This is done through withholding (information and thoughts), countering (confrontational dialogue) or discounting (denying the victim’s right to their feelings). 
  • Emotional abuse uses the victim’s emotions for manipulation and harassment. Destructive criticism, humiliation, and financial or social control are all forms of emotional abuse.

Workplace violence can’t always be identified or prevented in every situation. In many cases, there are also risk factors that affect the potential for workplace violence, such as gender and occupation. However, when you implement education and teaching strategies for employees,  your company can mitigate the risks.

Top 3 best practices for workplace violence prevention programs

No one wants to imagine a situation where violence occurs in their workplace, but the best way to help prevent it is to prepare for it. For your company to ensure that every employee is safe and understands the necessary precautions for workplace risks, there must be a system in place that they are taught and given access to. This is where companies must create proper workplace safety through a workplace violence prevention program.

Although there isn’t much research on the effectiveness of different types of workplace prevention programs, there is success in mitigating risks through the creation of a program.

Here are three best practices to follow when creating your workplace violence prevention program:

  • Analyze your workplace risks. The very first question an employer should consider about their workplace is: has there been violence before? If there has, they must then investigate the situations and recognize what type of abuse occurred (physical, verbal and/or emotional) and how it could’ve been prevented. If there are no past examples, your best approach is to speak with your employees and identify their greatest concerns. By engaging with them, you can learn if there are any gaps in the current protections offered to your employees. From there, take a look at the physical surroundings of your workplace. Are there security measures in place that protect against outside threats, such as locks, security guards or physical barriers? Are they needed? Once you have identified your risks, you can start creating or adding to your workplace violence policies.
  • Establish a zero-tolerance violence policy. By setting a firm boundary for your policies, you are creating a supportive environment where employees feel safe to work. To clearly set guidelines for this policy, you must also ask yourself what disciplinary actions are in place for violence that is verbal or nonverbal (For example, emotional abuse). It’s easy to set a mandate against physical abuse, but you must also let employees know what constitutes verbal and/or emotional abuse. Create guidelines for your zero-tolerance violence policy that leaves no questions to how to report violence and what to expect from that process.
  • Create an action plan. This is an essential part of your company’s workplace prevention program. It includes actions as small as implementing a reporting strategy for potential or past risks and as big as what to do if there is an active shooter in the building. Beyond teaching employees to recognize and report potential risks, your company must practice what to do in an emergency. This isn’t going to be fun to train or practice for, (you must take it very seriously) but it can save lives if an active threat ever attacks your workplace.

HR professionals act as the leaders and faces of your company’s workplace violence prevention programs, so it’s essential that you implement a comprehensive violence prevention program unique to your workplace. Workplace violence prevention programs aren’t 100% effective, but they’re vital to creating a safe and supportive environment for your employees.