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What can and should employers do to prevent workplace violence?

According to the National Safety Council's Injury Facts 2016 report, workplace violence was the third most common cause of death for people who work in health care professions. However, workplace violence can impact virtually anyone in any profession.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) lists four categories of workplace violence:

  • Worker-on-worker
  • Personal relationship
  • Customer/client
  • Criminal intent

Women are overwhelmingly the victims of the first two types of workplace violence.

The cases of workplace violence that most of us become aware of are usually the deadliest -- and they typically involve a person with a deadly weapon who kill or injure multiple people in just seconds. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines an active shooter as a person "actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area."

When confronted with an active shooter in your workplace (or anywhere), DHS recommends choosing one of three options, in this order: run, hide or fight.

  • If you can escape, do so.
  • If you can't, find someplace to hide, lock or block the door and make sure your phone is silenced.
  • If you can't escape or hide, do whatever you can to incapacitate the shooter. Improvise a weapon or throw things if you have to.

Employers have a responsibility to prepare employees for the possibility of a violent scenario. This includes creating an emergency plan and developing an employee training program. They may invite local law enforcement officers to help with drills and other exercises.

Every workplace should also have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to violence. No act of violence, even a shove, should be allowed. Things can escalate too quickly.

Employers and employees should be aware of changes in behavior that can be warning signs that someone will become violent. These can include:

  • Depression or talk of suicide
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Declining job performance or violations of policy
  • Resistance to changes
  • Regular complaints about being treated unfairly and other signs of paranoia
  • Responding emotionally to criticism

If you or a loved one has been the victim of workplace violence, you have the right to ask if an employer could or should have taken steps that would have prevented it. It's wise to seek legal guidance to determine your right to workers' compensation or to file a civil lawsuit.

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