Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Orange bar
Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Powered by google

Workplace Safety Consultation -- Workplace violence prevention

The Department of Labor and Industry works with employers and employees to increase their understanding of workplace violence in a way that emphasizes prevention and voluntary compliance. This allows them to recognize, avoid and prevent violence in the workplace. Success is measured by requests for services and creation of partnerships to accomplish these goals.

Statistics show approximately 1,000 work-related assaults are reported in Minnesota each year -- nearly 20 a week. Violence in the workplace is a serious public health problem; it affects all of us and we all have a responsibility to do something about it. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has established a Workplace Violence Prevention Resource Center to assist the public through:

Workplace violence prevention in health care settings

MNOSHA Workplace Safety Consultation (WSC) hosted a roundtable discussion about workplace violence prevention in health care settings, Nov. 1, at the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI). More than 60 participants listened to presentations from representatives of DLI, Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) and St. Cloud Hospital. The audience was encouraged to participate, asking questions and offering solutions.

 

Frequently asked questions about workplace violence prevention



Q. What is workplace violence?


Plus-minus graphic Click to view the answer

A. Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at a worksite. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors. Homicide is currently the fourth leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the U.S. in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides. Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a major concern for employers and employees nationwide.

 

Q. Who is vulnerable?


Plus-minus graphic Click to view the answer

A. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2 million assaults and threats of violence against Americans at work occur annually. The most common type of workplace crime was assault, with an average of 1.5 million a year. Workplace violence can strike anywhere and no one is immune. However, some workers are at increased risk. Among them are workers who:  exchange money with the public; deliver passengers, goods or services; or work alone or in small groups during late night or early morning hours in high-crime areas or in community settings and homes where they have extensive contact with the public. This group includes:  health care and social service workers, such as visiting nurses, psychiatric evaluators and probation officers; community workers, such as gas and water utility employees, phone and cable TV installers, and letter carriers; retail workers; and taxi drivers.

 

Q. How can potentially violent individuals be identified?


Plus-minus graphic Click to view the answer

A. No one can predict human behavior and there is no "specific profile" of a potentially dangerous individual. However, indicators of increased risk of violent behavior are available. It is important to remember even the most respectful environment can experience incidents of workplace violence. The environment may not always be the stressor that leads to the occurrence of an incident. An employee may be experiencing psychological problems, be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or be suffering from familial stress. He or she may have developed a "romantic" obsession for another employee, feeling abandoned and humiliated by his or her rejection; he or she may be feeling overlooked in not receiving a desired promotion; and he or she may be experiencing rage due to the knowledge of a potential layoff.

Indicators that can signal the risk potential for violent episodes

  • Sudden and persistent complaining about being treated unfairly

  • Blaming of others for personal problems

  • Sudden change in behavior, deterioration in job performance

  • Statement he or she would like something bad to happen to supervisor or another coworker

  • Paranoid behavior

  • Sudden increased absenteeism

  • Sexually harassing or obsessing about a coworker:  unwanted gifts, notes, unwanted calling, stalking

  • Increased demand of supervisor's time

  • Alcohol or drug abuse

  • Talking to oneself

  • Instability in family relationships

  • Financial problems combined with not receiving a raise or promotion

  • Poor relationships with coworkers or management

  • History of violent behavior

  • Previous threats, direct or indirect

  • Presenting and talking about reading material that is violent in nature

  • Carrying a concealed weapon or flashing one around

  • Quiet seething, sullenness

  • Refusal to accept criticism about job performance

  • Sudden mood swings, depression

  • Sudden refusal to comply with rules or refusal to perform duties

  • Inability to control feelings, outbursts of rage, swearing, slamming doors, etc.

If an employee begins demonstrating any -- or a combination -- of the above indicators, it is important management refers him or her to the employee assistance program (EAP) or other counseling services as soon as possible. It is imperative to respond in an empathic, caring and nonshaming manner, remembering that time is of the essence.

 

Q. Are there other types of workplace violence an organization may be exposed to?


Plus-minus graphic Click to view the answer

A. Oftentimes, violence in the workplace is committed by someone from outside the business or agency. Therefore, when possible, it is important to have surveillance at the entrance of the business or agency.

Situations that can indicate a potential threat

  • The spouse or partner of an employee who is in an abusive relationship

  • Rejected suitors; partners involved in divorce or separation procedures

  • Ex-employees who have been fired or laid off

  • Disgruntled customers

  • Person committing armed robbery

  • People involved in gang activities

  • In school settings, parents who feel their child has been treated unfairly or students who have been suspended

  • Terroristic threats against an employer or agency that has different beliefs then the person committing the act of terrorism

Workplace violence occurs in a variety of forms. These "types" are violence by strangers, violence by customers or clients, violence by coworkers and violence by personal relationships.


Q. What can an employer do to help protect employees?


Plus-minus graphic Click to view the answer

A. The best protection employers can offer employees is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by their employees.

The employer should also establish a workplace violence prevention program or incorporate the information into an existing accident prevention program, employee handbook or manual of standard operating procedures. It is critical to ensure all employees know the policy and understand all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.

Additional protections employers can offer

  • Provide safety education for employees so they know what conduct is not acceptable, what to do if they witness or are subjected to workplace violence and how to protect themselves.

  • Secure the workplace. Where appropriate to the business, install video surveillance, extra lighting and alarm systems. Minimize access by outsiders through identification badges, electronic keys and security guards.

  • Provide drop-safes to limit the amount of cash on hand. Keep a minimal amount of cash in registers during evenings and late-night hours.

  • Equip field staff members with cell phones and hand-held alarms or noise devices, and require them to prepare a daily work plan and keep a contact person informed of their location throughout the day. Keep employer provided vehicles properly maintained.

  • Instruct employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Introduce a "buddy system" or provide an escort service or police assistance in potentially dangerous situations or at night.

Develop policies and procedures covering visits by home health care providers. Address the conduct of home visits, the presence of others in the home during visits and the worker's right to refuse to provide services in a clearly hazardous situation.

 

Q. How can employees protect themselves?


Plus-minus graphic Click to view the answer

A. Nothing can guarantee an employee will not become a victim of workplace violence. However, the following steps can help reduce the odds.

  • Learn how to recognize, avoid or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs.

  • Alert supervisors to any concerns about safety or security and report all incidents immediately in writing.

  • Avoid traveling alone into unfamiliar locations or situations whenever possible.

Carry only minimal money and required identification into community settings.

 

Q. What should employers do following an incident of workplace violence?


Plus-minus graphic Click to view the answer

A. After an incident of workplace violence, employers should take the following steps.

  • Provide prompt medical evaluation and treatment to those employees who are affected.

  • Report violent incidents to the local police promptly.

  • Inform victims of their legal right to prosecute perpetrators.

  • Discuss the circumstances of the incident with staff members. Encourage employees to share information about ways to avoid similar situations in the future.

  • Remind and encourage employees to report and log all incidents and threats of workplace violence.

  • Offer stress debriefing sessions and post-trauma counseling services to help workers recover.

  • Investigate all violent incidents and threats, monitor trends in violent incidents by type or circumstance, and institute corrective actions.

Discuss any changes to the workplace violence prevention program during regular employee meetings.

 

Q. What protections does OSHA offer?


Plus-minus graphic Click to view the answer

A. The general duty clause in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all workers covered by the OSH Act. Employers that do not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate a recognized violence hazard in the workplace can be cited.

 

Q. How can I get more information?


Plus-minus graphic Click to view the answer

A. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry offers free safety and health consultation services through its Minnesota OSHA Workplace Safety Consultation (WSC) unit, including many free programs, publications and training opportunities. Employers in Minnesota that have questions concerning workplace violence prevention or any safety or health issue, or that would like a free assessment or training at the workplace, can contact WSC by phone at (651) 284-5060 or by email at osha.consultation@state.mn.us.

Federal OSHA has various publications, standards, statistics, technical assistance and compliance tools to help employers as well, at www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence.

 



Resources

A resource library is available to the public. Contact Vikki Sanders for more information about the Workplace Violence Prevention Resource Center.

DLI home page | Directions and maps | News and media | Website disclaimer