Staying Safe at Work & Workplace Violence

Personal Safety In the Workplace 

Staying safe at work has become a whole new area of concern. Workplace violence is one that is often overlooked.  Sexual harassment is a cloudy area that can be taken to the extreme or not reported at all.  Moreover, occupations with high incidences of violence include health care, social workers, teachers, taxi drivers, and people working alone.

          Fortunately, you can take action to avoid becoming the victim of a crime while at work. Your best defense is to know and discuss what security measures are available through your employer. In addition, you should take other necessary precautions to protect yourself and your valuables.

Sources of Workplace Violence

             The main sources of workplace violence can be classified as follows:

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  • Robbery / Theft 
  • Domestic Dispute 
  • Employer / Employee Directed 
  • Revenge 
woman staying safe at work

Some common ways that this type of assault occurs at work include any of the following:

       The company you work for is ultimately responsible for the safety of its employees.  Responsible companies will have a formalized written policy statement regarding workplace safety and sexual harassment.  This policy should include definitions along with possible actions.

        Supervisors and employees should receive a brief training session designed to recognize warning signs of potentially violent persons.  Security procedures should be in place to protect all workers.  Counseling and stress management procedures are often in place in larger companies. Staying safe at work is a genuine area of stress in today’s workplace violence culture.

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        Some possible suggestions for workplace safety from an employer’s standpoint should include the following:

  • There should be a receptionist at the entrance to control access at all times
  • All visitors should be escorted in and out of work areas
  • Staff should be encouraged to question and assist any unaccompanied strangers they encounter in the workplace
  • Keep restrooms locked when not occupied could be considered
  • Have procedures in place for dealing with suspicious mail and packages
  • Have a prompt response to incidents of conflict in the workplace
  • Develop and use a Crisis Management Plan 
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There are some classic signs of a potentially violent person in the workplace.  Be on the lookout for the following personality characteristics:

  • Resists change
  • Sullen, angry and/or depressed
  • Identifies with or praises acts of workplace violence
  • Recently collected or obtained a weapon
  • Uses threats, intimidation and manipulation towards others
  • They are paranoid – thinking others are out to “get” them
     
  • Over-reacts to criticism
  • Blames other people for their own mistakes
  • Has had recent Police encounters
  • Has a history of assault
  • Other persons are afraid of, or apprehensive about this person 
woman staying safe at work

“The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as the act or threat of violence, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assaults, directed toward people at work or on duty.”

SHRM

Staying Safe at Work includes Being Aware of The typical stages of aggression, which would include:

  • Person becomes anxious – “on edge”
     
  • Displays negative attitude and/or behavior (refusal to cooperate and questioning)
  • Verbal – Physical release
  • Calms down 

How do you respond to these stages to avoid workplace violence?

  • Show support and empathy for them
  • Be firm and set limits
  • Escape and get assistance
  • If future contact is expected – set firm ground rules 

Be completely aware of non-verbal clues that a co-worker or any other person might have the propensity to become violent. 
Watch for these clues:

  • A violation of your personal space
  • Body language (clenching / unclenching fists)
  • Facial expressions
  • Tone of voice 

When confronted with instances of workplace violence, do not take threats lightly.  Staying safe at work must include becoming proactive.

If the person you suspect of harassment says any of the following phrases, you have a problem:

  • “I’m going to kill you” 
  • “If you report me – you’ll regret it” 
  • “Be careful going home tonight” “I know where you live” 

You should report and document all threats immediately.  Staying safe at work, from workplace violence means taking these things seriously. More importantly than that, however, is to remember you should first stay calm and assess the situation.  Agree with your aggressor and then calmly remove yourself from the situation.  

If you panic, beg, plead, or argue, you will most likely agitate the perpetrator and find yourself in an even more dangerous situation.  DO NOT minimize his or her threats and DO NOT fail to report the incident. 

You have the need to be safe in the workplace.  No one has the authority or right to harass you in any way while you are trying to make a living.  There are very specific laws that deal with this type of assault, and you should, at all costs, pursue those avenues if you find yourself in a threatening situation in the workplace.

If you work shifts or work into the evening alone, it is wise to take precautions to reduce your vulnerability and protect yourself: 

  • Whenever possible, to stay safe at work – try to avoid working alone.
  • If you are required to work alone, develop a check-in system with a friend or family member who you can let know you are okay. Without fail, give them instructions on what to do if you do not check-in on time (i.e. calling the police or a manager).
  • If you work in an office make sure all doors and windows are locked. Turn on several lights to make it appear the building is occupied.
     
  • Additionally, let someone know when you are leaving, the route you will be taking and when you are expected to arrive home.
  • If possible have someone escort you to your vehicle. Try to park your vehicle in a well-lighted location close to the door. 
woman staying safe at work

Remember that your office should have a strict policy protecting you and other employees by not giving out any personal information at any time. This policy should include never providing a home phone number or address of an employee. 

Also, never disclose that a person is on vacation or on business travel. This could be setting that person up for a crime. However, a message should be taken and the person advised that the employee will return their call at a later date. Staying safe at work is a team effort.

       You should never leave valuables (purses, laptops, cell phones, etc.) on a desk if you are away from them.  Take them with you or lock them away. Never leave a wallet in a coat pocket.  Always keep money in a safe place .  Even if it’s only the coffee fund never leave it in an unlocked drawer during the day. At night put the money in a safe or remove it from the building altogether. 

Watch for signs of unusual behavior from co-workers. 

Moreover, there’s no need to get overly paranoid, but there are warning signs that a person you work with could be a potentially dangerous person.  This is where it is very important to trust your instincts. If a client or co-worker makes you feel uncomfortable, discuss the situation with a supervisor or co-worker you trust.

        If you feel threatened by the other person do not hesitate to call the police. No doubt, dealing with a potential problem in the early stages will often prevent the situation from escalating. Next, develop a plan to deal with potential problems.

        Avoid confrontations with co-workers and be aware of the emotional climate at work. Consequently, you should be especially sure that what you are experiencing is sexual harassment or a physical threat.  There’s no need to “jump the gun”, but you want to be sure you are protected.  If you feel someone’s behavior is wrong, keep an eye on that behavior and keep very specific notes.

Be assertive regarding any unwanted sexual attention at work. It is recommended that you keep a record of repeated incidents of sexual harassment. Report it to your employer.  In an emergency, get yourself to safety and call the police immediately. 

Never hesitate to call 911 in an emergency. Staying safe at work is a genuine concern, however, with these ideas you will be on a good path to protecting yourself from workplace violence.

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