Violence in the Workplace

By Rob Monroe
We have all observed, from time to time, employees who become frustrated while working and need to let off a little steam. When does letting off a little steam become workplace violence?

To determine when that line is crossed, we must first define workplace violence. Workplace violence is any action or incident which causes physical or psychological harm to another person. It includes situations where workers and/or other people are threatened, attacked or physically assaulted at work. It also includes non-physical incidents such as verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation and threatening behavior. Threats may be perceived or real. There does not have to be physical injury for the violence to be a workplace hazard.

Often times ignored are the simple slamming of a fist on a desk or the receiver onto the telephone base. Although afterwards the offending party may be embarrassed by their actions, it is wise to pay attention to this kind of behavior. It may be an isolated case but should be watched for escalating signs of violent action. Escalation can include direct or veiled threats of harm, intimidating or bullying behavior, repeated conflicts with supervisors or other employees, strained workplace relationships, increased need for supervision, substance abuse, signs of stress, excuses or blaming, and extreme changes in behavior.

It falls to all people in a supervisory capacity to watch for escalating behavior. Decisions are made regularly to decide if a worker is just having a bad day or something more serious is going on. What do we do before we think someone might “go optical”?

It is wise to incorporate a Workplace Violence Policy into the paperwork received by all employees when hired. In addition, it should be reviewed by all employees on an annual basis.

Most policies include a description of what constitutes violence in the workplace as well as stating all employees are responsible for maintaining a safe work environment, the procedures taken in case of an incident, and that violence is not tolerated.

Next, have a safety director or committee in place. The director should be a trusted employee who is good with people and is familiar with everyone. It is preferable for the director to not be a supervisor or manager. This way employees who are struggling with behavior or someone who wants to make a safety report will feel comfortable doing so. It gives employees a person to talk to who they are comfortable with, not intimidated by and can feel the conversation will be kept confidential.

Then when workplace violence is exhibited, the safety director or a member of the safety committee can check with the employee to ask how they are doing in a calm and concerned manner. This promotes the idea of trust and the employee is aware his/her concerns are being addressed. The next step generally is to remain in close contact with the employee, assure them that all conversations will be held in confidence, and explain what you can do to help them. Of course, if we are talking about someone in a rage, it’s best to give them a cooling off period before proceeding with the before mentioned steps. Calling any authority should be reserved for the extreme cases when you feel that someone may injure themselves, injure someone else or perform some sort of property damage.

If disciplinary action is necessary, do so with caution, bring a copy of your Workplace Violence Policy to share again, explain your position and why you feel discipline is warranted, give the employee a chance to speak their mind, document all meetings and have a third uninvolved party present. Follow up as necessary.

The size of the laboratory doesn’t matter. We all want our employees to know that they have a safe and comfortable environment to work in and that their well being is a primary concern.

Rob Monroe spends the greater amount of his time at Katz & Klein running finers in the surface department. However, since accepting the position as safety director, he finds himself busy with a host of other duties relating to safety issues for Katz & Klein employees.

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Labtalk-November/December 2017