Nonfatal assaults in the workplace affect many workers and employers. The National Crime Victimization Survey (1994) found “as a result of workplace victimizations, approximately 500,000 workers lost 1.75 million days of work annually (an average of 3.5 days per crime). Although groups at high risk for workplace homicide and nonfatal workplace assault share similar characteristics such as interaction with the public and handling of money, there are also clear difference. For example, groups such as health care workers are not at elevated risk of workplace homicide, but they are at greatly increased risk of nonfatal assaults. Some of the distinctions are attributed to differences between robbery-related violence and violence resulting from the anger or frustration of customers, clients or co-workers. Robbery-related violence is more likely to result in a fatal outcome.
A number of factors may increase a worker’s risk for workplace assaults according to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The worker is more at risk if his or her responsibilities involve:
Suggested prevention strategies for workplace assault focus on three areas: environmental design, administrative controls and behavioral strategies.
This involves using the workplace design to make the assault harder to achieve. Cash-handling policies in retail settings include using drop safes to minimize cash on hand, carrying small amounts of cash, and posting signs stating that limited cash is on hand. If cashless transactions are feasible, install machines that accommodate automatic teller cards, credit or debit cards.
Physically separate workers from customers, clients and general public through the height and depth of counters (with or without bullet-resistance barriers) that introduce distance between workers and potential attackers.
Make high-risk areas visible to more people. Install good external lighting.
Assess doors into and out of the workplace. Look at the number of entrances and exits, the ease with which clients, customers, visitors, vendors and contractors can gain access to work areas because doors are left unlocked or propped open, and the number of areas where attackers can hide. Evaluate the placement of refuse areas, outdoor refrigeration areas and other storage facilities that workers must use during a shift. Do the landscaping, location, and/or lighting make it easy for an attacker to lay in wait and surprise a worker?
Security devices may reduce risk for assaults against workers and make it easier to identify and catch perpetrators. These include exterior lighting that reduces shadows and illuminates doorways, closed-circuit cameras, silent alarms, two-way mirrors, key-card access systems, panic-bar equipped doors that lock from the outside only, and movement detection or trouble lights. Some of these are expensive, others are not.
Altering staffing plans and work practices may reduce the risk of assault. For instance, increasing the number of employees and volunteers on duty in a retail or service establishment makes it harder not to be seen or cries of help to be heard. Employing security guards or receptionists to screen people entering the workplace, and controlling access to actual work areas may work for other nonprofits. Others may benefit from a review of the nonprofit’s practices and staffing patterns during the opening and closing of establishments and during money drops and pickups. Also look at staffing and practices involved with transporting or depositing money, taking out garbage, disposing of grease, storing food or other items in external storage areas.
The nonprofit’s policies and procedures for assessing and reporting threats allow employers to track and assess threats and violent incidents in the workplace. Policies should clearly state that the nonprofit has a zero tolerance of workplace violence (one strike and you are out) by or to employees or volunteers and support this with methods to report incidents and to handle discipline. This policy should spell out what types of incidents are considered “workplace violence” and the consequences for such behavior. It should assure that reports breaching the policy will be thoroughly investigated and reported to the police. It should state that proper medical attention will be provided for the victim(s) and the victim(s) will be informed of their legal right to prosecute the perpetrators. The employee and volunteer handbooks provide information on policies and procedures.
Policies should include guidance on recognizing the potential for violence, methods for defusing or de-escalating potentially violent situations and instruction about the use of security devices. Include procedures for obtaining medical care and psychological support following violent incidents. Make certain that training and education accompany such policies.
Incorporate evaluation of interpersonal skills into the annual review.
Training should be regarded as a component in a comprehensive approach to reducing workplace violence. Educate staff members what conduct is not acceptable, what to do if they witness or are subjected to workplace violence, and how to protect themselves. Teach them how to communicate with each other to encourage cooperation and exchange of information and reduce confrontation, bullying, anger that can escalate to physical violence. Reward cooperative behavior. Also critical is training that addresses hazards associated with specific tasks or worksites and relevant prevention strategies. Horseplay can turn rough. To increase vigilance and compliance with stated violence prevention policies, training should emphasize the appropriate use and maintenance of protective equipment, adherence to administrative controls and increased knowledge and awareness of the risk of workplace violence.