Workplace Violence Prevention – Myths, Confusion & Misunderstandings
My business associate and Founder of the Workplace Violence Prevention Institute Kathleen M. Bonczyk, Esq. Attorney, Consultant and Advocate properly calls June a bloody month when a former employee named Henry Bello entered the Bronx Lebanon Hospital, New York City at about 2:50 p.m., Friday, June 30, 2017 with a rifle concealed under a lab coat and began shooting. At least one person was killed and 6 others were injured before Bello apparently committed suicide. It was reported as a disgruntled ex-employee rampage shooting – the fourth in the United States since June 5th.
Pretty straight forward report. However, would you agree that there’s too much confusion and myths about Workplace Violence Prevention and what it is? I often read of news reports where experts are quoted as saying that though “workplace violence is rare workplaces need to take relative measures to protect against armed intruders such as actives shooters”.
According to OSHA USA there are over 2 million reported incidents of workplace violence every year and that the number could be considerably higher. This lack of understanding in defining workplace violence might be at the root cause of why the prevention effort is woefully underfunded and under managed. There is a tendency to confuse the use of “workplace violence” as referring to a homicidal threat. When in fact, “Workplace violence” includes much more than just homicides or workplace shootings.
The U.S. Department of Labor defines “workplace violence” as any threat or act of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at a work site. In making a distinction between the types of violence both the FBI and OSHA separates “workplace violence” into four (4) categories of violence based on victim-perpetrator relationship. Such acts of workplace violence are even further defined as nonfatal and fatal incidents.
In reality, homicidal incidents of violence involving current employees, former employees and disgruntled spouses and intimate partner violence in the workplace is a fairly rare occurrence in the United States.
Media coverage and sensationalized reports by some misinformed suggest that homicidal violence is increasing. The number of workplace related homicides has fallen from 518 in 2010 to 417 in 2015, the last year for which complete statistics are available. Of these cases, only an average of 12 percent were committed by a current or former co-worker.
It is important that we clarify these myths and confusions in reporting and in categorizing workplace violence if workplaces are to appropriately commit and invest resources. Managing the threat of workplace violence requires understanding the continuum acts and their direct correlation to escalation such as name calling, verbal abuse, bullying, harassment, arguments, personal disputes, fights and other forms of workplace related nonfatal acts of violence if, human resources, security managers, risk managers and others responsible are to justify implementation of comprehensive policies and plans.
Language is important in applying the right mixture of prevention strategy, resources, awareness and training. If and when the language is cleaned up employers can then begin to appreciate the value of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” in rolling out and managing comprehensive workplace violence prevention policies that are aligned with strategies, plans, procedures, training, plans, people and technology.
Workplace Violence Prevention is NOT preparing the workforce to take on armed intruders in the workplace. That’s too late and suggest a failed prevention initiative. Prevention is hopefully never having to deal with the threat of posed by the disgruntled current or former employee who transitions to active shooter or hostile intruder.
It certainly isn’t waiting for a disgruntled employee to exact his anger on the workplace. Workplace Violence Prevention is preventing that kind of thinking from happening in the first place. It requires an integrated, collaborated, coordinated and a communicated leadership philosophy.
The myths and confusion associated with Workplace Violence Prevention continues to be a challenge for most organizations regardless of size or type. We accept that no organization is immune and many are unprepared to deal with routine incidents let alone complex issues associated with an armed intruder.
What’s particularly concerning is that disgruntled employee’s transition to homicidal aggression without notice or reporting by employers, employees and/or family members. Rarely is the employer alerted. Rarely do employees report their suspicions or observations.
Employers are encouraged to take proactive measures in educating the workplace in understanding the “WHY” in resolving existing conditions or contributing factors that when left unresolved escalate to aggression, threats and fights and even worst when the separated employee rationalizes his intentions to retaliate.
This article was first published on naterassociates.com